Sadiq Khan and report author clash over Cressida Dick ousting

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Sadiq Khan’s claim that a report that criticised his ousting of Cressida Dick as Met police commissioner was biased has been sensationally rejected as “absurd” by its author.

In a dramatic exchange at a City Hall hearing, Sir Tom Winsor, the former police watchdog, rounded on the mayor for suggesting he was “biased”, had ignored the facts and was a friend of Dame Cressida.

“The idea that the facts have been ignored is just not sustainable,” Sir Tom told the London Assembly’s police and crime committee on Wednesday. “The idea that I have political affections or allegiances is absurd.”

Mr Khan and Sir Tom were sat at the same table, barely two yards apart, as they gave evidence.

Sir Tom Winsor (PA)
Sir Tom Winsor (PA)

The committee had used its legal powers to order Mr Khan to appear and answer questions over the Winsor Report – the first time a sitting mayor has been formally summonsed.

Dame Cressida resigned on February 10 after clashing with the mayor on the Met’s response to a report exposing misogyny, bullying and harassment by 14 officers at Charing Cross police station, amid growing concern that it was losing public confidence.

Sir Tom, formerly Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, was asked by the then Home Secretary Priti Patel in March to establish the “full facts” of Dame Cressida’s departure after Sir Stephen House, then the Met deputy commissioner, accused the mayor of acting unlawfully.

On the report’s publication in September, Mr Khan said it was “clearly biased and ignores the facts”.

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Asked on Wednesday to explain his remarks, he said: “The view of me and others is that the process is flawed, the investigation is biased, it ignored many facts.

“We all know – it is a matter of public record – Sir Tom’s close association with the former commissioner. We all know Sir Tom’s close association with former Home Secretaries.

“In Sir Tom’s own words, he has given more weight to those of police officers than from others. The conclusions of Sir Tom weren’t a surprise to many.”

Asked to respond to the mayor’s comments, Sir Tom said: “They’re absurd.”

He added: “The idea that the facts have been ignored over 115 pages… The facts have been gone into, on a minute by minute detailed basis. They could not have been more painstakingly and thoroughly analysed.

“Unfortunately the mayor, and others of his staff, failed properly to engage with this investigation until a very late stage in the proceedings and only after nine requests for interviews.

“The idea that the facts have been ignored is absurd, particularly because, at a late stage in the process, the mayor’s office provided me with detailed factual material which caused me to revise my report in a number of material respects.”

Sir Tom said the inquiry took 22 weeks rather than six weeks predominantly because the mayor and his policing office “failed properly to engage”.

Turning to face Mr Khan, he added: “The mayor says that my close association with Cressida Dick is well-known. Well, it’s not well known to me or, I think, to her.

“In 12 years in policing, I think I have had one social occasion with Cressida Dick. That is when she invited me for dinner at the very end of my term of office as Chief Inspector of Constabulary to say thank you for 12 years of service. It was a pleasant dinner – we didn’t discuss this.”

Sir Tom added in relation to Dame Cressida: “There have been no other social occasions. The idea that we are friends is just not sustainable.”

It is not known on which date Sir Tom and Dame Cressida had dinner, but he told the committee it was in the final month as Chief Inspector of Constabulary - his term as ended on March 31 - but before March 25, the date his review into Dame Cressida’s departure began.

He told the assembly committee that he had had close associations with leading politicians of both the Tory and Labour parties.

He was a Labour party member “on and off, for 30 years – indeed I became a member of the Labour party 10 years before the mayor was old enough to vote.”

His Labour party mentors were Donald Dewar, John Smith and Clare Short. “I was appointed as rail regulator and international rail regulator by John Prescott, who is hardly some soft-Left New Labour apparatchik.”

Sir Tom, asked if he had ever lobbied on behalf of Dame Cressida, said Mr Khan had asked his advice in January 2017 on who should be appointed Met commissioner, when they were sat together at a London Government dinner at the Mansion House.

“That is not lobbying,” Sir Tom said. “That is a courteous reply to a question he put to me.”

Dame Cressida had been given less than an hour by the mayor’s aides to decide what to do on February 10 after being told that Mr Khan planned to announce she had lost his trust and confidence and he would start the statutory process of having her removed.

At a meeting several days earlier, Mr Khan had expressed “shock and anger” at the Charing Cross report and warned her that “one or other of us is going to end up being substituted”. Dame Cressida viewed this as a “threat” to her job.

Asked by comittee chair Susan Hall whether he was responsible for the commissioner going, Mr Khan said: “Absolutely. I lost confidence in her - in her ability to address the serious issues that had been exposed over the previous months.”

Sir Tom’s report, which was published at the start of September, found that Mr Khan had not followed “due process” and had effectively “constructively dismissed” the commissioner.

This was an “abuse of the power conferred upon him” and resulted in Dame Cressida being “intimidated” into quitting, the report said.

He said the way she was treated by the mayor’s most senior aides was “unjustifiably politically brutal”.

Sir Tom said in his report: “The mayor’s actions on 10 February 2022 failed to respect the dignity of the commissioner as an individual, and as the holder of high public office.

“He did not act, in particular on 10 February 2022 itself, in accordance with the legislative scheme, still less its spirit.”

Dame Cressida was first appointed as commissioner by Mr Khan and the then Home Secretary Amber Rudd in April 2017, for a five-year period.

In August last year, Mr Khan and Ms Patel agreed to extend Dame Cressida’s term by a further two years – Mr Khan having wanted three more years.

But the relationship between the mayor and commissioner began to sour in September 2021 when he told her the Met was in the “last chance saloon” after an officer who had served alongside Wayne Couzens, who raped and murdered Sarah Everard, was charged with rape.

Also, it was only in October 2021 that the full details about Wayne Couzens’ offences emerged, Mr Khan said.

The findings of the Operation Hotton inquiry into Charing Cross police station infuriated Mr Khan, who felt the behaviour of some Met officers had returned to the “bad old days” of the 1970s and 1980s.

On Wednesday, he described the Hotton report as “game changing” and the “straw that broke the camel’s back”.

Mr Khan was said, in a meeting on February 2 with Dame Cressida and others, to have referred to the Baby P child abuse scandal and the sacking of social services chief Sharon Shoesmith as a “good precedent to follow” in determining how the Met should treat officers criticised by Hotton – even if that were unlawful.

Sir Tom received “extensive co-operation” from Dame Cressida, who he interviewed “at length and on more than one occasion”, and from the Metropolitan Police.

On Wednesday, he said he had “over five hours of face-time” with Dame Cressida.

But he was only able to speak with Mr Khan for 90 minutes at the end of four months of inquiries, despite nine requests, and then in the presence of a deputy mayor, Sophie Linden, and the mayor’s chief of staff, David Bellamy.

Mr Khan told the hearing that he met Sir Tom “as soon as I could” and he and his aides “fully co-operated” with the inquiry.

He said Sir Tom was given “copious amounts” of written documents - but Sir Tom said the amount of information supplied was “far below” what he would have expected for such a serious matter.

Sir Tom said in his report: “I find that the commissioner’s recollection of the substance of what was said is to be preferred.”

Dame Cressida was ousted shortly after deciding not to attend a meeting with the mayor at 4pm on February 10.

Her last day as commissioner was April 24.

Sir Tom said Dame Cressida was “wrong” not to attend the meeting, and it was an “error of judgement” - though he could understand her concern that she would have been “humiliated”.

He agreed her failure to attend posed “a very serious problem” for Mr Khan.

But he said the way top mayoral aides dealt with Dame Cressida was “unjustifiably politically brutal”.

Sir Tom wrote: “For any public servant – least of all one so senior and long-serving – to be given under an hour to decide whether to resign or to challenge the Mayor’s position was entirely unacceptable.

“Where there has never been any suggestion of any personal misconduct on the part of the commissioner, there can be no justification for the mayor’s conduct in this respect. It was contrary to the terms and spirit of the Protocol, and it was unfair.”

Mr Khan told the committee that there had been a “bunker mentality” at the top of the Met. “I didn’t understand then, and I still don’t understand now, why Dame Cressida didn’t come to our meeting.”

Asked whether the resigned or was ousted, he told Tory assembly member Neil Garratt: “My view is that she resigned.”

Mr Khan said he was unable to disclose the precise terms of Dame Cressida’s compensation for loss of office but said: “She did not get two years’ salary.”

Dame Cressida’s departure came less than a month after Mr Khan, in a joint meeting with the commissioner and Ms Patel on January 19, said the Met “was in the strongest position it had been in since the start of his mayoralty”, according to the report.

Operation Hotton was a series of nine linked, independent investigations into the behaviour of certain officers between 2015 and 2017, most of whom were constables at Charing Cross police station. At the time, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe was Met commissioner.

Two of the officers had been promoted, one in 2018 and the other in 2021 – a discovery that infuriated Mr Khan, despite the second officer having a charge against him unproven.

Dame Cressida’s recollection – which was denied by Mr Khan – was that he told her she should dismiss all the officers investigated during Operation Hotton, and that that was what the public would expect.

Sir Tom’s report said: “The commissioner explained that she had no power to act as the Mayor wanted; it would be ultra vires and she had to comply with due process.

“She said it was important to comply with the law and to be fair. The Mayor replied, she told me: ‘Do it anyway’.”

In a statement soon after the report’s publication, Mr Khan said: “On the former commissioner’s watch, trust in the police fell to record lows following a litany of terrible scandals. What happened was simple – I lost confidence in the former commissioner’s ability to make the changes needed and she then chose to stand aside.”

Dame Cressida called Sir Tom’s report a “highly detailed and forensic account of the circumstances surrounding my departure”.

She said: “He found the mayor did not follow due process and at times his behaviour was oppressive, unreasonable, entirely unacceptable and unfair.”