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Why we should break up the Met

The “bad apples” defence does not explain why toxic people are attracted to the police.

By New Statesman

For decades, as a litany of scandals has unfolded, the Metropolitan Police, which employs around a quarter of police officers in England and Wales, has focused on making excuses for itself. The problem, we have repeatedly been told, lies not with the institution but with a small number of unrepresentative officers – the so-called bad apples. There is always someone, or something else, to blame for systemic failings.

The 363-page report by the crossbench peer Louise Casey – which was commissioned as part of a review following the rape and murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met police officer, Wayne Couzens – should mark the end of such apologias. It concludes that the Met is institutionally racist, misogynistic and homophobic. The report also says the Met has a bullying culture internally, and that there is an “overpolicing” of the black community. Baroness Casey concludes it has become “unanchored” from the founding principles of Robert Peel.

These findings were bleakly inevitable.

It was the horrific murder of Sarah Everard that prompted this reckoning. Couzens was a police officer whose job – and the Met’s institutional failings – allowed him to murder an innocent young woman after he used his warrant card to arrest her. If the Met lacks the trust of women, “policing by consent” becomes meaningless. 

[See also: How Labour hopes to restore faith in the police]

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Many Londoners have long held no illusions about the force. In 1999, the Macpherson report branded the Met institutionally racist over its response to the murder of teenager Stephen Lawrence.

Yet this finding did not lead to fundamental change. Instead, the long train of abuses and injustices continued.

In 2005, the Met lied about a number of details relating to the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, a Brazilian national, at a London Underground station – an operation presided over by a future police commissioner, Cressida Dick. In 2009, the force misleadingly claimed it had been pelted by missiles after an officer beat Ian Tomlinson to the ground during the G20 summit protests in the City of London, before the newspaper vendor died minutes later from a heart attack. In 2011, the Met shot dead Mark Duggan, who was unarmed at the time – an action that triggered the London riots. In 2021, the force summarily rejected the finding by an independent inquiry into the murder of Daniel Morgan that it was “institutionally corrupt”.

The Casey report merely confirms that there is something rotten at the heart of the Met. It is too big, too unaccountable. A female police officer who reported being sexually assaulted by a colleague was later forced to work alongside him; a Muslim officer had bacon pushed into his boots; a Sikh officer had his beard cut because “an officer thought it was funny”; rape cases were dropped because of “over-stuffed, dilapidated or broken” evidence fridges; and officers were encouraged to delete WhatsApp messages that might have helped to expose this squalid culture.

[See also: Is this the end of the Met Police?]

The Casey report stands as the most comprehensive indictment of the Metropolitan Police since the force’s creation in 1829. Confronted by the weight of evidence, Baroness Casey concludes that the break-up of the force, or even its abolition, must be an option:

“If sufficient progress is not being made at the points of further review, more radical, structural options, such as dividing up the Met into national, specialist and London responsibilities, should be considered to ensure the service to Londoners is prioritised.”

Does the Met deserve yet another reprieve?

Following the publication of the Casey report, commissioner Mark Rowley, who was appointed in September 2022 after coming out of retirement, declared that “we’ve got hundreds of toxic individuals that need sorting out”.

Yet this is merely another version of the “bad apples” defence. It evades the question of why toxic individuals are attracted to a career in the Met in the first place and why the force has proved incapable of reforming itself.  “You might have 100 people in your gang,” said Enfield police’s Ian Kibblewhite, in 2012. “We have 32,000 people in our gang. It’s called the Metropolitan Police.”

A huge gang is precisely what the Met now resembles. It is secretive and ruthlessly protects its own interests and officers and punishes internal and external dissent. The problem is not merely a few rotten apples; it is the whole barrel.

[See also: Abolishing the Met is the only option left]

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This article appears in the 22 Mar 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Banks on the brink