Toxic Met Police should be broken up if immediate reform cannot address systemic failings
The problems with the Metropolitan Police as set out in the Casey Review are horrifying. It is unable to police itself; is failing women and children; has fundamentally withdrawn from neighbourhood policing and is still disfigured by racism, misogyny and homophobia.
Sadly, none of this is a surprise to those of us who live amongst the people of inner city and campaigned on these issues for a lifetime. A characteristic episode happened in my own area of Stoke Newington when Konstancja Duff, a young academic, made the mistake of offering a “know your rights” card to a 15 year old being stopped and searched on a council estate. Annoyed police officers dragged her back to Stoke Newington police station to be strip searched. Once there her hands were cuffed, her legs tied together, her clothes cut off with scissors, her earrings ripped out, her breasts grappled, and she was even touched between her legs in the search for (the police officers claimed) genital piercings.
When things are toxic – as they are now in the Met – it makes reform doubly difficult
She was never charged with anything because she had not actually done anything. The really startling thing about this case is that it took Duff eight years to get an apology from the Metropolitan Police. No police officer at any level thought that anything wrong had happened. These may be attitudes unique to police officers in Hackney. But I believe, as Baroness Casey sets out, that the Met is riddled with these misogynistic and bullying attitudes.
But all of this does come as a surprise to some people, notably the current Home Secretary Suella Braverman. On Tuesday, in her first response to the Casey review, she talked about “the recent loss of confidence amongst London’s diverse communities”. This was a startling remark. The loss of confidence in the Met amongst diverse communities in London goes all the way back to the 1980s and the Scarman report which talked about the disproportionate stop and search of black people. Institutional racism in the Met Police has been well documented both by George Scarman and then 20 years later by Sir William Macpherson. But nothing seems to have gotten better – in fact other things have got worse.
Casey remarks on how the Met is failing in relation to violence on women and girls. The charge rate nationally for rape has dropped to a shocking 1.6 per cent. A former Met Police deputy commissioner is alleged to have said that the “bulk” of rape complaints were “regretful sex”. This callous and macho attitude to violence against women is possibly a clue to why the clear-up for rape is so low. Casey quotes a serving Met Police officer as saying “you might as well say that rape is legal in London”.
With so many reports of Met misconduct ignored for decades, the challenge is to decide what to do next. I am sure that the current Met Police commissioner Sir Mark Rowley is a pleasant man. But he was senior officer in the Met from 2011 to 2018. Inevitably that long period means long-standing relationships with police colleagues will cut across the need to reform.
Policing builds tremendous fellowship. When things are going well, that is a huge asset. But when things are toxic – as they are now in the Met – it makes reform doubly difficult. It is noticeable that, even now, Rowley is not prepared to say that the Met is institutionally racist. But, if he cannot describe the problem, it is unlikely that he will be able to solve it.
Casey says that if there is not reform in the next two years the Met should be broken up. This must be right. The national functions, such as counterterrorism, should be put in one organisation and policing London put in another. There is a precedent for this type of re-organisation. By 2001 the Royal Ulster Constabulary had lost all credibility with much of the population of Northern Ireland, particularly Catholics. So it was superseded by the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
Things are so disappointing and dire with the Metropolitan Police that breaking it up seems the only answer.
Diane Abbott is the Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington.
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