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Leicester officers accused of discrimination over WhatsApp group 'banter'.Getty Images/Carl Court

A group of Leicester police officers accused of sharing discriminatory messages with one another in a WhatsApp group have defended their actions as "just banter".

The group, which was created in 2013 by a sergeant, allegedly contained multiple nicknames given to its members that could be seen as homophobic. A joke about a sex crime was also shared among the group.

The eight questioned in the force's misconduct hearing could be discharged, reports the Leicester Mercury. They have all admitted their actions, but defended their positions through two barristers at the misconduct panel.

"The conduct in this case, while serious and offensive, is not so serious that dismissal is justified," Barrister Nick Yeo said. "They thought it was just banter."

Phrases such as "big gay bear" and "big gay purple head" were among the nicknames cited as possible misconduct, which the second defence lawyer, Matthew Butt, admitted was "obviously immature stupid language," but that the messages did not warrant charges of "gross" misconduct due to similar social media cases within the force.

"It shows there was a culture within that team of sending inappropriate messages," continued Yeo, "the culture was widespread and it extended to supervisors," later waving away the chat as "macho bravado".

References for the officers included statement from LGBT colleagues, with some expressing surprise at the nature of the accusations. One officer accused of discrimination was defended for learning sign language to help those with disabilities.

"That is just one example in my submission that adds some proof that it goes too far to say that because you sent one deeply offensive message you hold discriminatory views," Butt said.