OPINION - Why 2022 must be the year the Met drains its swamp

·7-min read
Dame Cressida Dick will be working this Christmas (Victoria Jones/PA) (PA Wire)
Dame Cressida Dick will be working this Christmas (Victoria Jones/PA) (PA Wire)

At this time of year, Scotland Yard chief Dame Cressida Dick is usually at home surrounded by family enjoying a well-deserved break while an assistant three ranks below runs operational policing in London.

But emphasising an unprecedented crisis of public confidence, the Met Commissioner will be at her desk on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day overseeing the response to serious violence and terrorism.

Dame Cressida is acutely aware the barrage of scandals cannot dominate 2022, her 39th year in policing.

And that starts on Friday and Saturday by being one of the few senior figures in law enforcement or government present in Westminster.

There’s much work to do and more criticism to come.

Not since the force was founded in 1829 by Robert Peel has arguably one event — the murder of Sarah Everard by serving police officer Wayne Couzens — struck at the very heart of the Met’s commitment to public safety.

The kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard by police officer Wayne Couzens has been one of the Met’s most high profile failings in 2021. (PA Media)
The kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard by police officer Wayne Couzens has been one of the Met’s most high profile failings in 2021. (PA Media)

Couzens, 48, abused his position by carrying out a fake arrest to kidnap, rape and strangle Ms Everard, 33, as she walked home in Clapham, South London on March 3. He was given a whole life sentence in September.

There was understandable public revulsion. A vigil for marketing executive Ms Everard on Clapham Common turned ugly in March as crowds clashed with police.

The Met were cleared of being “heavy-handed” as they dispersed mainly female protesters.

Heaping further shame on the force, it emerged two police officers took pictures of the bodies of murdered sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman and shared them on WhatsApp.

Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman taken from Bibaa’s phone (Metropolitan Police/PA) (PA Wire)
Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman taken from Bibaa’s phone (Metropolitan Police/PA) (PA Wire)

PCs Jamie Lewis, 33, and Deniz Jaffer, 47, had been assigned to guard the scene overnight after social worker Ms Henry, 46, and photographer Ms Smallman, 27, were stabbed to death in a park in Wembley in June last year.

While on duty, the pair referred to them as “dead birds”. Lewis and Jaffer were each sentenced to two years and nine months in prison in December and dismissed from the police force.

During that investigation, it was found PC Harry Chandler sent a message using an offensive slur to another officer describing people of Pakistani heritage when discussing where in London to live. He was sacked earlier this month.

Although Dame Cressida’s backers will insist these officers — and the growing number facing sexual misconduct allegations — are a few bad apples, it fuels accusations that racism, corruption and misogyny are breeding like spores in pockets of the Met.

They also say because the Met recruits from society, it inherits the same social ills.

The Metropolitan Police has come a long way since the Macpherson report into the bungling of Stephen Lawrence’s 1993 racist murder labelled it “institutionally racist”.

The Macpherson report into the bungling of Stephen Lawrence’s 1993 racist murder labelled the Met police  “institutionally racist”. (Family/PA) (PA Media)
The Macpherson report into the bungling of Stephen Lawrence’s 1993 racist murder labelled the Met police “institutionally racist”. (Family/PA) (PA Media)

But in June, an independent panel set up to look into the 1987 unsolved murder of private investigator Daniel Morgan published a scathing report in which it accused the Met of “a form of institutional corruption” for concealing or denying failings.

Panel chairman Baroness Nuala O’Loan said the force’s first objective was to “protect itself”, something Dame Cressida rejects.

Earlier this month, MPs called for a public inquiry into whether institutional homophobia played a part in police failures to stop serial killer Stephen Port between June 2014 and September 2015 in Barking.

Inquest jurors found shambolic inquiries probably contributed to the deaths of three victims — Gabriel Kovari, 22, Daniel Whitworth, 21, and Jack Taylor 25.

Their relatives and those of Anthony Walgate, 23, his first victim, raised concerns that something sinister had happened after each of the deaths but were ignored by investigators.

At the heart of Dame Cressida’s policing nightmare is what appears to be a lack of supervision and training around upholding standards and abuse of social media, particularly in the force’s larger specialist units.

However, it is worth noting many recent cases have only come to light because appalled colleagues blew the whistle on bad behaviour.

Dame Cressida says some of her most “hard-bitten” male officers have been in tears over the shame this bring upon them all.

Many are now openly calling for swifter dismissals of rogue colleagues who can drag out the judicial process and use police regulations to stay suspended on full pay for months, or even years, until a fast-track disciplinary hearing is held.

A source said: “All employers have people like Couzens, including the NHS and schools, but there has to be a way of the police getting rid of them sooner.

“No one wants them in the job — they drag everyone down. The rules have to change because once an officer passes probation, it’s very difficult to sack them.”

All of this distracts from work the vast majority of her 33,116 officers do so Londoners can go about their business.

In its first year, the Met’s Predatory Offender Unit arrested over 2,500 offenders wanted for domestic and child abuse, sexual exploitation and human trafficking.

A targeted 16 Days of Action saw 1,504 people detained for domestic violence, stalking and rape.

Thousands of weapons and firearms have been taken off the streets.

Detectives say since 2019, homicides have decreased by seven per cent, meaning nine less victims, and knife crime fell by 32 per cent, resulting in 4,105 fewer offences. The murder detection rate is currently 95 to 99 per cent, higher than global cities like New York and Chicago.

Knife crime among under-25s has fallen by 29 per cent — which means 395 fewer casualties — and robbery is down 44 per cent, leading to 13,453 less victims.

With just days of 2021 to go, it remains to be seen if the capital will equal the record 29 young lives lost to violent crime in 2008.

Rishmeet Singh, 16 — the 28th victim — was stabbed to death in Raleigh Road, Southall on November 24.

Rishmeet Singh, 16, was the victim of a fatal stabbing in Southall (Met Police/PA) (PA Wire)
Rishmeet Singh, 16, was the victim of a fatal stabbing in Southall (Met Police/PA) (PA Wire)

Dame Cressida will claim work to supress violence and carry out engagement with youngsters is working.

But there still remains mistrust of the Met’s disproportionate use of stop and search powers on young black men who, statistically, are also more likely to be the victims and perpetrators of teenage homicides.

The Commissioner’s unenviable in-tray for the first six months of 2022 already looks troubling.

The police watchdog’s long-running investigation into the stop and search of Team GB sprinter Bianca Williams and her partner Ricardo dos Santos should conclude.

Team GB sprinter Bianca Williams and her partner Ricardo dos Santos were stopped, searched and handcuffed on 4 July 2020.  The athlete, then 27, accused the force of “racially profiling” the couple, who were also separated from their three-month-old son. (PA)
Team GB sprinter Bianca Williams and her partner Ricardo dos Santos were stopped, searched and handcuffed on 4 July 2020. The athlete, then 27, accused the force of “racially profiling” the couple, who were also separated from their three-month-old son. (PA)

The athlete, then 27, accused the force of “racially profiling” when they were handcuffed and separated from their three-month-old son in Maida Vale in July 2020.

Dame Cressida previously apologised to Ms Williams after footage of their Mercedes being stopped was posted online by the former Olympic champion Linford Christie.

Three officers are being investigated for gross misconduct over breaches of police standards of “equality and diversity”, the Independent Office for Police Conduct announced.

Another three police are already being investigated for various potential breaches of standards of professional behaviour relating to the use of force, authority, respect and courtesy.

The open wound between the Met and its black police association will be on display when the force goes to court to stop a senior officer convicted of having a child abuse video on her phone returning to work.

Highly decorated Superintendent Novlett Robyn Williams, 56, won a tribunal appeal against her sacking earlier this year. But the Met is seeking a judicial review on the divisive issue.

By June, Baroness Casey of Blackstock is expected to present the results of her review into the culture and standards at the Metropolitan Police in the wake of Ms Everard’s murder.

This is separate to the independent inquiry announced by Home Secretary Priti Patel looking at “systematic failures” that allowed Couzens to be employed as a police officer.

Other probes are also being carried out by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services and the IOPC.

Potentially most damaging is the “urgent examination” under way into all current investigations of sexual and domestic abuse allegations against Met police officers.

It is alleged reports made about more than 70 police officers are being collated by 50 new investigators drafted into the Met’s professional standards directorate.

When details are published, it may throw a spotlight on weaknesses in vetting.

Home Secretary Priti Patel gave Dame Cressida a two-year extension to her contract in October.

She was given three key targets to meet in order to keep her job: Statistics must show that serious violence and knife crime in London is falling; the Met must show evidence they are improving their response to violence against women and girls; and the force must co-operate with an independent inquiry into its failures that led to Couzens murdering Everard.

Perhaps this gives an insight into Dame Cressida’s determination to stop the rot even if it means working throughout Christmas.

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