Borders police officers being investigated over their part in a scandal over emails found on an internal computer system, and which are said to be of a racist and sexual nature, are to be transferred out of the region, TheSouthern has been told.
Councillor Donald Moffat, the current vice-convener of Lothian and Borders Police Board, says the draconian action is being taken to reassure communities and minority groups that such behaviour will not be tolerated.
It was on Tuesday that Lothian & Borders Police confirmed a 51-year-old officer had been suspended while a probe takes place, with disciplinary action anticipated against others involved – all reported to be either constables or sergeants.
All 21 of the men and women work within the force’s ‘G’ Division, which is headquartered in Hawick.
It was an internal monitoring facility which had detected emails containing “inappropriate and offensive material,” within the Borders area division of the force.
Deputy chief constable Bill Skelly said it was a “huge disappointment” that emails of a racist and sexist nature were circulated on the police computer system.
“I consider this to be a very serious matter and have instructed that a 51-year-old police officer is suspended and that further enquiries should be carried out,” he said.
“Initial work has identified another 20 individuals – 16 officers and four police staff – who appear to be involved in this issue.
“They have been spoken to and advised that they are subject to misconduct enquiries. While these enquiries are ongoing it would be inappropriate to comment further.”
Mr Moffat believes the speed and harshness of the action taken by senior officers against those concerned will ensure confidence among ethnic and sexual minority groups in the Borders will not be affected.
While the police would not confirm the transfer of the officers involved, Mr Moffat spoke to TheSouthern just minutes after receiving a briefing on the controversy yesterday morning.
“What needs to be remembered is that these emails were uncovered by the police’s own monitoring system and quick action has already been taken against 21 different people,” he said.
“I think the speed with which action has been taken shows that such behaviour is unacceptable and will not be tolerated, and it sends a strong message to that effect.
“Also, the individuals involved are all being moved from the Borders, which shows how seriously this is being treated.”
And he says he does not believe such attitudes are endemic in ‘G’ Division, adding: “If I was a member of a minority group, I’d be reassured by the robust way this is being sorted out.”
Mr Moffat says he does not know the identities of officers or staff involved, or the nature of the information contained in the emails.
“I don’t know who they are, but it will soon become apparent when certain officers start to disappear,” he said.
Susan Hart, chairperson of the Scottish Borders Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Equality Forum, also doubts those the forum represents will have their faith in the local police dented.
“Our relations with the police in the Borders have always been really good – an officer actually sits on the board of the forum.
“We have never had any reason to lose confidence in the police here in the Borders and they have always been very pro-active in picking up on anything derogatory towards members of the LGBT community.”
Mr Skelly added that, while the vast majority of Lothian & Borders police employees were dedicated and acted with the utmost respect at all times, there were occasions when a very small minority fell well below the standards expected.
And he added: “The force is now in consultation with partners and representatives of minority groups regarding what additional measures may be appropriate.”