A Metropolitan police chief who was sent an unsolicited video of child sexual abuse via WhatsApp has been convicted of possessing indecent images on her phone.
Supt Robyn Williams, 54, was found guilty by a jury at the Old Bailey and potentially faces being sacked after 36 years of distinguished service.
Williams was at a gym class in February 2018 when she was sent the video via WhatsApp on her phone by her sister, who was outraged by its content and wanted the person behind it caught.
Under the law on possessing indecent images, it was for Williams to prove she had a legitimate reason to have it, or that she had not seen the video and did not have reason to believe it was indecent.
Williams, who had denied possessing an indecent image of a child, looked stunned as the jury delivered its 10-to-one majority verdict after more than 10 hours of deliberation. She was found not guilty of corruptly failing to report the image, after the jury rejected the prosecution’s claim that Williams had seen a thumbnail of the image, and thus was aware of its serious nature, but failed to report it because she feared getting her sister into trouble.
Williams maintained she never saw the thumbnail; it was accepted she never played the 1min video. The prosecution alleged Williams was lying to protect her sister.
Williams, who was honoured for her work after the Grenfell fire disaster, is one of the most senior female African-Caribbean police officers.
The jury heard she was a founder member of the National Black Police Association, helped set up a gay police association, campaigned for more women in policing and had received the Queen’s police medal.
Her sister and co-defendant, Jennifer Hodge, 56, was convicted of distributing an indecent image of a child. She sent it via WhatsApp to 17 people, including Williams.
Hodge had been sent it by her partner, Dido Massivi, 61, who was convicted of distributing two indecent images and possessing an extreme image.
The video was sent to Williams on a Saturday and the next day she spent several hours with her sister.
At one point in a police interview Hodge said she had mentioned the video to her sister, but later said she had not.
The prosecutor Richard Wright QC, opening the case, made it clear the defendants had no sexual interest in the images: “This is instead a case in which we allege that each of them made serious errors of judgment about how to handle this video and in dealing with it as they did, each of them has committed serious criminal offences.”
After sending the video, Hodge sent a message expressing her outrage about the video: “Sorry had to send this it’s so sad that this person would put this out please post this and let’s hope he gets life.”
The crown say that 40 minutes later Williams opened WhatsApp. Wright said: “She would have seen a tile [thumbnail] that showed the first frame of the video. It would have been clear … and we say it would have been immediately obvious exactly what it was: an indecent video of a child.”
Another person who was sent the video by Hodge reported it to the police. An investigation began and identified Williams as one of those who received the video.
After the verdict, the deputy assistant commissioner, responsible for professionalism, Matthew Horne said: “The prosecution called this a ‘sad case’ and referred to the ‘serious errors of judgment’ made by those involved. The court heard that Supt Williams has led a distinguished career in policing and previously been commended for her professionalism.
“The Independent Office for Police Conduct is carrying out an independent misconduct investigation into the actions of Supt Williams and we await the outcome.”
Williams remains on restricted duties at this stage.
The officer, who at the time was the borough commander for Sutton in south London, told the jury she never saw the image of a man sexually assaulting a girl, and would have taken immediate action if she had.
“If I’d seen anything remotely like that, I would have simply, simply – I am on speed dial to my chief inspector – I would have called my lead for safeguarding and asked what was the best possible way to get this evidence into the chain of action, so we could safeguard and best protect this child. Simple phone call, no discussion.”
All three will be sentenced on 26 November.
Supporters of Williams were aghast that she was put on trial when there was no evidence she played the video. Some in policing were also concerned that the case appeared to show a black officer being picked on, threatened with humiliation, ruin and jail.
The Police Superintendents’ Association and Black Police Association asked the Met to review the case five times but the force declined.