Monday, November 28, 2022 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Controversial London police chief forced out by mayor

The U.K.’s top police officer has been forced to resign after a series of high-profile scandals and a loss of public trust in the force. But there are growing calls for more fundamental reform of the Metropolitan Police, responsible for both London’s policing and national counterterrorism.

(CN) — The commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick, was forced to resign on Thursday after an intervention from Mayor Sadiq Khan, who claimed the public had lost trust in the United Kingdom’s most powerful police force.

“Last week, I made clear to [Dick] the scale of the change I believe is urgently required to rebuild the trust and confidence of Londoners in the Met, and to root out the racism, sexism, homophobia, bullying, discrimination and misogyny that still exists," Kahn said in a statement Thursday. "I am not satisfied with the commissioner’s response.”

Earlier in the week, the mayor had told the BBC’s Radio 4: “We police in this country on a very important principle – one of consent. If it is the case, whether you’re a woman or a girl, whether you’re a person of color, or a member of the LGBTQ+ community, that you haven’t got confidence in the police service to be able to come forward when you are a victim of crime, a witness of crime, then that’s a problem for now.”

Just hours prior to her resignation, Dick had told BBC that she had no intention of stepping down, saying, “I have been leading the Met very well.”

“I think about my leadership all the time. I am not an arrogant person, I do adapt, I do change. I have absolutely done my very, very, very best and I will continue to do so until the day I finish as commissioner,” she added.

When she was appointed to the post in 2017, Dick became the first female commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, colloquially known as the Met, in its nearly 200-year history. However, under her leadership the Met has become embroiled in a series of high-profile scandals highlighting an alleged culture of sexism and misogyny in the force.

The allegations gained national prominence following last year’s shocking abduction, rape and murder of 33-year-old marketing executive Sarah Everard by a Met police officer.

Officer Wayne Couzens kidnapped Everard under the pretense of arresting her for breaching coronavirus regulations while she was walking home on the evening of March 3, 2021. He used his police warrant card as a means of abducting Everard, and is believed to have strangled her to death using his police belt. Couzens was later sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, the most serious punishment under English law.

The case sparked widespread anger and fear among women in the U.K., particularly as it emerged that police had been aware of previous incidents of sexual assault committed by Couzens, including two just prior to Everard’s murder, and that he had been been nicknamed “The Rapist” by colleagues.

Public criticism of the Met intensified after a vigil held in Everard’s memory at London’s Clapham Common, just 10 days after the murder, was controversially broken up by police officers enforcing pandemic restrictions on public gatherings. Met officers were accused of assaulting women attending the vigil and trampling on flowers left in Everard’s memory. A subsequent report found that policing of the vigil was appropriate, but also a “public relations disaster” with a “materially adverse effect on public confidence in policing.”

In addition, the Met was widely criticized for public advice issued to women frightened by the circumstances in which Everard was kidnapped. Women were told they should consider resisting arrest, running away or waving a bus down if they were suspicious of a police officer’s motives. A spokesperson for the domestic violence group Sisters Uncut said the advice showed that Dick "does not trust her officers to not abuse their powers.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Other revelations have added to the perception of a misogynistic culture in the police force. In June last year it was revealed that two Met police officers had shared photos of the corpses of murdered sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman among colleagues in a private WhatsApp group, while using racial slurs and mocking the victims. Both officers responsible were subsequently jailed.

In September, an investigation by The Independent found that 771 Met staff had been subject to sexual misconduct allegations since 2010, and 163 police officers had been arrested for sexual offenses in the same period.

In January, Dr. Konstancja Duff received compensation and a public apology from the Met after being forcibly strip searched and subjected to degrading comments about her body. Sergeant Kurtis Howard instructed officers to search her “by any means necessary” and to “treat her like a terrorist.” Duff was subsequently acquitted of the charges against her.

Also last month, Kate Wilson became the 13th woman to receive compensation for being tricked into a sexual relationship with an undercover Met police officer tasked with spying on the activities of environmental activists. In court, the Met accepted that sexual relationships conducted by undercover officers were “carried out with the acquiescence of cover officers and line managers.”

But the final straw for the London mayor appears to have been the release of a report from the Independent Office for Police Conduct last week that exposed a high volume of WhatsApp messages shared between police officers that advocated violence against women and threatened female colleagues with rape and assault. The IOPC concluded that “these incidents are not isolated or simply the behavior of a few ‘bad apples’” and a “culture of bullying appears to have been accepted and not challenged.” Female officers felt unable to complain and were frequently told that such behavior “was part of police culture,” the report found.

In response, the police force released a statement saying, “We do not believe there is a culture of misogyny in the Met.”

Aside from the recent coverage focused on alleged police misogyny, the outgoing commissioner had already gained a public reputation as something of a battle-hardened survivor, having previously been embroiled in multiple high-profile Met scandals.

In 2005, Dick led the operation which resulted in the fatal shooting of an innocent commuter on the London Underground network. Jean Charles de Menezes had been followed by armed Met police officers into Stockwell station after being wrongly suspected of preparing to commit a terrorist attack. The official police account of events, which accused Menezes of jumping the ticket barriers and sprinting on to the train, was later disproved by CCTV footage that showed him moving through the ticket barriers and station calmly. Dick was cleared of “personal culpability” in the tragedy.

Dick was also implicated in the cover-up of a repeatedly obstructed investigation into the murder of Daniel Morgan, an investigative journalist killed with an axe in a pub parking lot in 1987. An independent report on the matter found that the Met is “institutionally corrupt,” with Dick specifically accused of obstruction in her dealings with the inquiry. The case remains unsolved.

And just last month, Dick faced a cross-party barrage of criticism from members of parliament for the Met’s intervention in the ongoing ‘Partygate’ scandal involving Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The police had initially firmly refused to investigate reports that Johnson and other Downing Street staff had repeatedly breached social gathering restrictions, claiming that the allegations did not reach the required threshold for investigation. However, Dick announced a dramatic U-turn on that position just hours before the results of a high-profile civil service investigation into the allegations was due to be released, thus preventing the publication of the key report, and its evidence, until after the conclusion of ongoing police inquiries.

At the time, Christopher Chope, a Conservative member of parliament, said the Met was “usurping its position by seeking to interfere in the affairs of state”, whilst Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey stated that “a stitch-up between the Met leadership and No. 10 [Downing Street] will damage our politics for generations, and it looks like it is happening right in front of our eyes.”

Dick becomes the third Met commissioner to be forced to resign in scandal since 2008. While her tenure has come to an end, uneasy questions about the future of the agency remain. The force possesses an unusual dual responsibility for maintaining law and order in London, whilst also conducting counterterrorism activities nationwide. As a result it has evolved into a sprawling organization, with significant resources and power, and often uncomfortably close links to government.

Dick’s replacement may therefore find that transforming an internal culture also requires changes to the Met’s external structure – a formidable task that would likely require the participation of the government. For now, responsibility for choosing her successor rests with British Home Secretary Priti Patel.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.

Loading
Loading...