Metropolitan Police: it’s now or never

Good morning. Louise Casey’s independent review of the Metropolitan Police’s culture and standards makes grim but predictable reading. It’s a familiar story for the UK’s largest police force, but it may well be different this time.

Ill Met

“Weary” is police slang to refer to “a woman who complains about the behaviours of male colleagues, or speaks out against ‘banter’ or prevailing police culture”. I imagine it will shock absolutely nobody reading this to learn that this slang is used in a derogatory fashion.

It’s fitting, because as I read Louise Casey’s report on the culture and standards of the Metropolitan Police, I too am weary.

The story is familiar: a horrific crime, or series of crimes, take place. Daniel Morgan, a private investigator who claims to have evidence of police corruption, is murdered. The initial police investigation and its follow-ups are badly bungled.

Stephen Lawrence, an 18-year-old boy, is murdered. The initial police investigation is bungled. Anthony Walgate, a 23-year-old gay man, is murdered. The initial police investigation is bungled, and his killer, Stephen Port goes on to kill again. And again. And again.

Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, two sisters aged 46 and 27, are murdered. The Met does, at least, manage to find the killer, but not before the officers ordered to guard the crime scene abandon their posts to take and share “selfie-style” photos of the two dead women’s bodies.

Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old woman, is kidnapped, raped and murdered. The Met manage to find the killer and to avoid taking grisly photos with her remains, but the killer, Wayne Couzens, was a serving police officer who tricked her into entering his car. Like many perpetrators of extreme sexual violence he has a history of “minor” sexual offences.

And so we have a report tasked with exploring the Met’s culture and standards. The damning conclusion, unsurprisingly, is that the force’s culture is bad and its standards are worse. It is, in Casey’s words, racist, homophobic and sexist.

You can read William Wallis and Robert Wright’s news story here, and Casey’s op-ed in the Times today, in which she states: “To those who say that institutions can’t be racist or sexist, only individuals, I disagree”.

The crucial extract from her report, for me, is this account from one woman with 20 years’ experience in policing, whose misery caused by some of her Met colleagues’ constant bullying and sexually inappropriate behaviour made her desperate to leave:

“I knew if I made a formal complaint, that’s going to blight the rest of my career. I’d be known as a complainer, weary, a troublemaker . . . when all I wanted was to be able to come to work and enjoy it, like everyone else seemed to.”

This complaint is not rare — Casey’s report is dotted with them — but essentially it is why the Metropolitan Police keeps being the subject of these reviews. If you don’t have an organisational culture that is set up to receive complaints and take action on them, you don’t have an organisational culture that is going to deliver excellence. As Casey rightly says, the “single biggest barrier to fixing” the Met’s problems is a culture of denial that these problems exist.

Will Casey’s review just be the latest in a long line of reports that broadly reach the same conclusion, but are never implemented? Part of the problem has been that successive governments have preferred to go for the easy option of appearing to be “tough on crime” and “pro-police” rather than asking difficult questions about whether the British police in general and its largest force in particular could be made any better.

One reason why things may be different this time is that there is an emerging consensus among both the major parties’ big thinkers on crime and policing about what needs to be done.

Casey has called on the Metropolitan Police to either be radically reformed or broken up. This is a long-running demand of Nick Timothy, formerly one of Theresa May’s closest aides and part of one of the few eras in British politics where the Home Office had seriously tried to improve standards in policing and had a plan that didn’t just involve spending more money. Timothy is now the chair of the Conservative think-tank Onward’s “Future of Conservatism” project.

On the other side of the House of Commons, Keir Starmer was a key player in the remaking of another police force that had badly lost its way: the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which was renamed the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Starmer, in a breach from his usual caution on law-and-order, has endorsed the report and called for the Metropolitan Police to undergo a similar level of root-and-branch reform to the PSNI.

Both of which creates an opportunity for Rishi Sunak, a man who wants to be re-elected as a “doer”, to seize a rare opportunity to fix this perennial policy problem at a time when his main opponent and his own party’s most serious thinkers on the topic are broadly aligned on the problems and solutions.

If there is ever going to be a moment in British politics to take on the difficult challenge of turning around the Metropolitan Police it’s surely now or never.

Shameless self-promotion

My column in today’s paper is on the political battles over childcare in the UK and the question many politicians are failing to ask about childcare.

Now try this

I don’t know if “enjoyed” is quite the right word, but I was hugely impressed by Other People’s Children, starring Virginie Efira as a woman longing to have a child and to have a relationship with the daughter of her boyfriend Ali.

Top stories today

  • DUP to vote against Sunak deal | The Democratic Unionist party’s decision-making body — its 12 officers — unanimously agreed to oppose a key element of Rishi Sunak’s agreement with the EU, the Windsor framework. It is a blow to the chances of a swift restoration of the region’s power-sharing government.

  • Borrowing climbs | UK public sector borrowing rose more than expected in February, driven by the cost of the government’s energy support schemes.

  • Siddiq calls on chancellor in wake of banking turmoil | Shadow City minister Tulip Siddiq wrote to Jeremy Hunt saying he had a duty to the public and the UK financial services sector to implement a series of measures following the problems at Silicon Valley Bank and Credit Suisse.

  • Sturgeon: ‘It’s an unusual process’ | Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon has attempted to play down the crisis engulfing her Scottish National party’s election of a new leader, saying the contest was proving difficult but “healthy”.

  • Avanti rewarded | Ministers have granted UK train operator Avanti West Coast a six-month contract extension following a “very significant” improvement in services in recent months.

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