Police have been hit by a new WhatsApp controversy, with a control room worker accused of sharing a picture from the scene where a teenager died after being struck by a train.
The accused worker was employed by British Transport Police (BTP) at the time.
The photograph was taken by police investigating the death of Lewis Williams, 18, after he was hit by a train in Slough in June 2022. It is claimed it was later shared via social media.
Williams’ father, Paul, told the Guardian that news of a “gruesome” picture of his son’s death being shared had left him “sickened” and had exacerbated his grief.
He said his son was smart, had great potential and “a really big heart”. Williams wanted to be in the Royal Air Force, had previously done a reading before the royal family and was keen on history.
BTP said the image of Williams had been shared from the force’s control room.
A former BTP employee, Joshua Tilt, 31, appeared on Friday at Birmingham magistrates court, charged with misconduct in public office.
The court heard he was accused of taking a photo on his personal mobile phone of a deceased member of the public and distributing it to others, between 20 June and 1 July this year.
The district judge David Wain granted Tilt bail until 4 November, when he will appear at Birmingham crown court.Paul Williams told the Guardian his son died under a train in Slough on 21 June.
Days later police came to visit the family: “We were as a family trying to come to terms with the death of our son, and initially we had some comfort that he was at peace, but on 2 July all of that changed when the chief superintendent of British Transport Police told us a photo of his dismembered body [was] shared … in a WhatsApp chat group.
“I immediately felt sick. This was the first time that we were given the horrific detail about the state of Lewis’s body. It is incomprehensible to us that someone would share such a picture, or how they were able to. When I think of Lewis now, all I can think of is that gruesome photo that has been shared, and we will have to live with this image for the rest of our lives.”
In a statement, BTP, which operates on Britain’s transport network, said Tilt was “charged with misconduct in a public office, following an investigation by BTP’s professional standards department. The charges are in connection to an incident involving the sharing of an image from the force’s control room. As is routine, the force referred itself to the IOPC [Independent Office for Police Conduct] who deemed the matter suitable for local investigation.”
Williams said that in March 2022 his son was diagnosed with an emotionally unstable personality disorder: “Lewis was popular, funny and kind. He had a really big heart and would always put other people’s problems ahead of his own. He touched so many people’s lives.
“He was also incredibly smart, and his knowledge of history and the world was second to none. His teachers would always say how much potential he had. He would spend hours reading and researching any topic.
“He was chosen to do a reading at the RAF 100 at Windsor in front of members of the royal family. Lewis had dreams of joining the RAF one day.”
Williams said his son had joined the air cadets when he was 12 and had risen to the rank of flight sergeant: “He was very empathetic and great at reading other people’s feelings. His school friends, college friends and those from the squadron did tributes for him after his death. At the squadron they have his hoodie with the squadron number and a plaque placed on the wall in his memory.”
• This article was amended on 10 October 2022 to remove a reference to Windsor “Cathedral”.