A police sergeant who waved pepperoni pizza over a Jewish policewoman’s meal has narrowly kept his job.
Sergeant Gary Jacobs said “whoops, I will eat the incriminating evidence” after a piece of the meat fell onto the junior officer’s special kosher pizza.
The 43-year-old officer, based in Crawley in West Sussex, was hauled before a disciplinary panel on Tuesday.
The hearing at Sussex Police headquarters in Lewes was told that the Jewish officer, referred to only as “Pc A”, was left feeling “mocked for her faith”.
Sgt Jacobs argued that the pizza incident was a misguided joke-gone-wrong and accepted that his actions amounted to misconduct, but not gross misconduct.
However the panel decided what Sgt Jacobs did amounted to gross misconduct and told him that he came very close to having his career as a police officer ended.
The incident happened on March 8 when Sgt Jacobs, Pc A and other colleagues were relaxing before a shift eating pizza, the hearing was told.
Amy Clarke, bringing the allegation on behalf of the police force, said: “Pc A had deliberately ordered a pizza that was compliant with her dietary requirements.
“Sgt Jacobs picked up a piece of pepperoni pizza and dangled it over or near Pc A’s food.
“A piece of the pepperoni fell onto Pc A’s pizza.”
This was despite being aware of Pc A’s faith and another officer having just pointed out that her kosher pizza should be kept separate, Ms Clarke said.
The panel heard that Sgt Jacobs “waved” a piece of pepperoni pizza over Pc A’s kosher chicken pizza saying “technically not touching”.
When a piece of meat fell onto Pc A’s meal he remarked: “Whoops, I will eat the incriminating evidence.”
The Jewish officer, who had only recently joined the force, was left feeling “embarrassed, isolated and as if she was being mocked for her faith”, Ms Clarke said.
Colin Banham, representing Sgt Jacobs, said: “No-one says this was a malicious act.
“An incident that he bitterly regrets and one that he is clearly remorseful about.
“There was no intention to contaminate food.”
He argued that the incident was not pre-meditated and happened in a “jocular atmosphere” when officers were relaxing before a shift began.
He told the panel that Sgt Jacobs had been under various pressures in his home and work life at the time.
Trevor Bowles, who has been managing Sgt Jacobs since he changed teams following the pizza incident, said he had been impressed with his work.
He told the panel: “He has substantial potential if his skills are channelled in the right way.
“There has been not one issue or concern in all of his interactions with my staff.”
After retiring to consider the facts, panel chair Michael Salter said: “This amounts to gross misconduct as it is a breach of the standards of professional behaviour so serious that dismissal would be justified.
“Police officers exercise significant powers.
“The misconduct regime is a key part of accountability framework.”
He said Sgt Jacobs’ actions were “serious and they caused discredit to the police service”.
Speaking to Sgt Jacobs, he said: “Officer, I cannot tell you how close you came to losing your job today.
“I have done this job for a number of years now.
“I have not found any case that has fallen so close to the boundary as yours has.”
Sgt Jacobs will receive a final written warning as a result of the hearing.