A former Metropolitan Police officer has been convicted of sending a grossly offensive racist message on WhatsApp group chat, which implied that “black people steal”.
Michael Chadwell had shared a graphic which had been created by someone else into the group of retired Met officers, which showed a picture of different coloured parrots above an image of children of different races.
Text on the images said “Why do we cherish the variety of colour in every species… but our own?”, underneath which a comment in response said “because I have never had a bike stolen out of my front yard by a parrot”.
The 62-year-old, from Liss, Hampshire, had denied one count of sending by public communication a grossly offensive racist message but was found guilty after a trial at City of London Magistrates’ Court on Monday.
Giving evidence on Monday, Chadwell, who retired from the Met in November 2015, said: “The reason I’ve come here today is because I don’t believe that joke is racist.”
He said he agreed with the text on the original post and “the reason I’ve sent the joke is because what’s written underneath is silly, it’s a riposte, someone has written something funny underneath”.
He added: “Whilst agreeing with the imagery in the first part, what’s written underneath is a piece of silliness that’s been said about it.
“My reason for (posting) it into the group was because of what the person had written on Facebook underneath, which I felt was Dadaist, surreal and a little bit Monty Python.”
The defendant served in the Met’s Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Command and Counter Terrorism Command, but district judge Tan Ikram noted the offence occurred after his retirement.
The judge said: “It is not in dispute that this message was sent.
“It was sent in a group which had previously, by the defendant’s own admission, circulated racist jokes.
“I use the word ‘jokes’ but I will come back to that word. Jokes can be grossly offensive and can amount to a criminal offence and therefore I do not trivialise by using the word joke.
“Clearly his friends thought this was funny.”
The judge said the “absolute clear implication” of the post is that “black people steal”, adding: “It’s a clearly racist generalisation and caricature of ethnic people. I have no doubt in my mind that it’s grossly offensive.”
He added: “It was a message sent by the defendant on to the WhatsApp group and it was, I am sure, grossly offensive.
“This message was sent, I accept, amongst many other message which must have existed on that WhatsApp group but sent not more than a month after a previous message (from someone else) which the defendant accepts was racist.
“The Crown have put it very bluntly – they say that he joined in. He joined in in this criminal offending by sending these jokes.
“I noted with interest how he reacted to other messages (in the WhatsApp group) which he said had been sent by his friends and, I have to say, I was troubled by some reluctance on his part to say at least one of them is racist at all.
“That said, that is the evidence he gave in court today and he has sought, in my judgment, to distance himself from his awareness at the time. I’m sure he was aware. He was aware because he said in a subsequent post ‘Oops, sorry not woke’.
“He recognised that, when this was read as a whole, that it was grossly offensive and his attempt to say that the picture in itself can be considered in isolation in this case, I’m afraid, does not hold water.
“He posted the whole thing. He thought it was funny but it was grossly offensive and he was aware of that at the time. That is why I find the defendant guilty of this offence.”
Last month, Chadwell’s five co-defendants, all also former Met officers, admitted sending grossly offensive racist messages, including about the Duchess of Sussex, in the same WhatApp group.
They are Robert Lewis, 62, of Camberley, Surrey; Peter Booth, 66, of Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire; Anthony Elsom, 67, of Bournemouth, Dorset; Alan Hall, 65, of Stowmarket, Suffolk; and Trevor Lewton, 65, of Swansea, South Wales.
According to the charges, some of the messages shared in the chat also referred to the Prince and Princess of Wales, the late Queen and the late Duke of Edinburgh, as well as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, former home secretary Priti Patel and ex-health secretary Sajid Javid.
The charges, which relate to messages shared between September 2020 and 2022, came after a BBC Newsnight investigation in October last year which prompted a probe by the Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards.
The six former Met officers were due to be sentenced on Monday but this was adjourned to December 8 at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.
The defendants have all been granted unconditional bail.