Five retired British police officers pleaded guilty on Thursday to sending offensive and racist social media messages about Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, and other members of the royal family. The men, all in their 60s, were arrested following a BBC investigation last year, which triggered an internal police inquiry. The charges state that the messages, posted in a closed WhatsApp group, targeted Prince Harry and Meghan, as well as Prince William and Kate Middleton, and the late Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip. Some messages also mentioned prominent politicians, including Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, former Home Secretary Priti Patel, and former Health Secretary Sajid Javid.
The five retired officers, Robert Lewis, Peter Booth, Anthony Elsom, Alan Hall, and Trevor Lewton, appeared at London's Westminster Magistrates' Court and pleaded guilty to the charges of sending grossly offensive racist messages via public communication. All five had previously served with London's Metropolitan Police department, particularly within the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection branch, which is responsible for safeguarding politicians and diplomats.
Although the suspects were no longer serving as police officers at the time the messages were sent between 2020 and 2022, the conversations have come to light months after a damning report highlighted the presence of institutional racism, misogyny, and homophobia within the Metropolitan Police. The report, commissioned by the government, was based on a formal inquiry and was released in March of this year. Its publication followed the rape and murder of a young woman by a serving officer in 2021.
The report concluded that the Metropolitan Police Service, which is the largest police force in Britain with over 34,000 officers, must undergo significant changes to address these deep-seated issues, or it may face being dismantled. The force has failed to tackle these problems over the past two decades, leading to a loss of public confidence. The sentencing for the five retired officers is scheduled to take place on the same day as the trial of a sixth former officer, Michael Chadwell, who has pleaded not guilty to the same charge.
Meghan Markle, a biracial American actress, married Prince Harry, the second son of King Charles III, at Windsor Castle in 2018. In early 2020, the couple announced their decision to step back from their royal duties and leave the U.K., citing intrusive media attention and what they described as racist attitudes. This recent incident involving retired police officers sending racist messages about Markle highlights ongoing challenges surrounding racism and discrimination within British society.