Gwent Police suspended three officers after a watchdog launched an independent investigation into claims of sharing offensive messages.
The probe by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) follows the revelation last week of the alleged racist, misogynistic and homophobic messages on the phone of the deceased police officer Ricky Jones.
The messages were discovered when his family was searching his iPhone phone for any evidence of domestic abuse. Jones jumped to his death in the River Severn in 2020 after serving as a police officer for 26 years, mostly in Gwent, south-east Wales.
The content of the messages, first reported by The Sunday Times, alluded to the potential corruption in the police force.
According to it, pornographic videos, racist images and sensitive information about misconduct and corruption investigations were exchanged.
The IOPC said it considered referrals from Gwent and Wiltshire Police setting out several complaints from Jones’ family members over the handling of the investigation into his death and officers’ contact with his relatives.
Catrin Evans, the IOPC director for Wales, said many people would find the messages apparently shared among police officers “highly disturbing”.
He said the watchdog formally wrote to the Chief Constable of Gwent Police after the publication of the newspaper article and sought information to establish the chain of events and decisions taken over the family’s complaints and any conduct matters.
He confirmed that the IOPC had not previously received a referral from the force on any of the matters.
Based on the assessment of the conduct referrals, the watchdog decided that an independent investigation was essential to maintain public confidence, he said.
“We will be investigating the alleged involvement of a number of serving Gwent Police officers in sharing offensive messages,” Evans said.
The IOPC also sought further information from Gwent Police on the alleged involvement of former officers in the sharing of the offensive messages.
Gwent Police said the force would work with the watchdog to ensure “a full and transparent process to tackle any unacceptable behaviour by officers.”