The Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) is to investigate Merseyside police after it emerged that officers at the force who circulated overtly racist e-mails were allowed to keep their jobs.
Images sent by the officers included the head of a gorilla superimposed on a black woman in a bikini and entitled “Miss Africa”.
Another featured white eyes and teeth on a black background with a caption suggesting that it depicted a night scene in Harlem, New York.
After an investigation by the chief constable of Merseyside, 10 uniformed officers and three civilian workers were issued with written warnings or fines, the highest being the loss of three days’ pay – about £360.
The CRE criticised the outcome of the disciplinary process as “disturbing” and said that it would begin an inquiry into the affair.
A spokeswoman for the commission told the Times: “We do find these reports disturbing and will be making further inquiries to clarify the facts. Once we have established this, we will consider out next steps.”
The disciplinary action was also criticised by the National Black Police Association, which labelled the punishments “derisory”.
Merseyside Police defended its investigation into the material, and said that the inquiry, which concluded in March last year, was a “cultural watershed” for the force.
A spokesman said: “We have new policies in place to prevent this kind of behaviour in the future, and all staff are now aware that anyone breaching the mail policy will face the severest of penalties.”