“I’m a police officer, you’re safe with me”. Those chilling words came from serving Met police officer David Carrick, who has today pleaded guilty to 49 sexual offence charges including 24 counts of rape over two decades in several police roles and forces. Heinous crimes like his mandate a similarly transformative inquiry.
In the aftermath of the horrors of Dunblane, the government rewrote the rules of gun licensing. Following the atrocious events at Hillsborough, the government and footballing authorities rewrote the rules and transformed the grounds. When Stephen Lawrence was murdered by racists, a judicial inquiry investigated policing thoroughly.
It comes at a time when the investigation and prosecution of violence against women and girls is heavily and rightly criticised, after years of poor conviction rates – and a perception, if not a reality – that the police just don’t care.
The argument that Carrick was a one-off “bad apple” simply doesn’t stand up to meaningful scrutiny. Have we forgotten the rape and murder of Sarah Everard, or the disclosures that more than 1,000 officers nationwide have been investigated for “inappropriate and offensive communications” in the last five years?
Here are the four things our police forces need to do now, urgently:
Firstly, every force should be doing an independent review, not by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) because their reviews have failed to pick this up previously.
Secondly, there should be an independent national hotline for police officers and staff to share their concerns about others, if they don’t have any trust in internal ones. Thirdly, the Met needs to sack the offenders, not put them on training courses. Lastly, vetting should be more robust.
Misogyny always leads to women and girls being harmed. It involves the radicalisation of men by other men. You need only remind yourself of some of the highly offensive WhatsApp messages passing between officers, some of whom have been convicted; or the disclosures from the phone of a deceased officer at Gwent Police which I helped bring to the public’s attention.
Certain police officers have openly shared the most horrific content and then asked us to believe that it didn’t impact on their day job. There are few things worse than a bigot with a warrant card.
I also found similar in my independent review of the culture within the London Fire Brigade, where, for example, firefighters would – on a safety visit – secretly take photos of women’s underwear and sex toys, which they would share as a “trophy” with like-minded colleagues. We only know this because other brave firefighters told me, as they too were horrified.
Misogyny is the oldest bigotry and the most prevalent bigotry in every society in the world. The fact that misogyny is not a “hate crime” indicator leads to it not being identified. The failures of vetting, of supervision and management are obvious.
We have women saying they would rather resist arrest than be detained by a lone male officer. We have women’s groups protesting daily outside police stations. These are not isolated responses, they are a demonstration of real anxiety – if you can’t trust the police, who can you trust?
Morale amongst police officers must be low. Their good work is being undermined by a minority of bigots, so they too want to weed out the enemy within. However, we have also learnt that many officers are frightened of reporting the offenders because of victimisation and repercussions. One former senior officer went further, suggesting that had she reported sexual abuse and then feared for her own safety on patrol.
The fact that violence against women and girls is not a national policing priority means that such violence will carry on.
No Cobra meeting, no emergency response, no national conversations and no strategy that will deliver change. Baroness Louise Casey’s forthcoming report into the Met Police will only alarm us more.
Well, it won’t go away. We rightly expect higher standards of integrity from those with power. The Peelian Principle upon which British policing was founded is that “the police are the public and the public are the police.” It’s the basis of democratic policing and it needs reinforcing.
We need to seize this tragic moment to restore public confidence, particularly that of more than half our population: women. Only a full judicial inquiry can do that
Nazir Afzal OBE is a former chief prosecutor