Why is Cressida Dick still in her job? That’s the question on the front page of the Mail this morning, which once again has the head of the Metropolitan Police in its sights. The reason for the paper’s ire? The contents of Nuala O’Loan’s long-anticipated report into the unsolved murder of Daniel Morgan, which has finally been published after an eight-year wait.
For those of you unfamiliar with the case: Morgan, a private investigator, was killed in south London in 1987. The case has never been solved, and there have long been allegations that corruption in the Metropolitan Police played a part in both his killing and in the failure to find his killers.
Despite a witness saying at the time that they had been told police officers in Catford, south London, would either murder Morgan or arrange for him to be murdered in a location that ensured the subsequent investigation would also take place in Catford, the coroner in the initial inquest claimed that they had heard no evidence of police involvement in Morgan’s death.
A subsequent “independent” investigation into the killing by the Hampshire Police was compromised by a member of the Metropolitan Police joining it. That investigation concluded, despite what the inquiry describes as “significant contradictory evidence”, that the Metropolitan Police’s handling of the initial investigation showed a determination to identify Morgan’s killers.
A third operation in 1997 – Operation Nigeria – led to two of the suspects in the 1987 case being found guilty of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice for an unrelated matter, but had to be abandoned. The Morgan family’s long campaign for justice was taken up by Theresa May, who in 2013 set up this inquiry.
There is much that is alarming in the report’s 1,000-plus pages, but the most significant findings – as far as Cressida Dick’s fitness for office is concerned – are those relating to the delays to the inquiry itself. O’Loan’s report depicts a Kafkaesque world of delays, petty bureaucratic obstruction and thin pretexts for delaying or restricting the inquiry’s access to vital documents. It took until December 2015 for the inquiry (set up in May 2013) to receive the initial documentation.
A similar story played out with access to the Home Office Large Major Enquiry System (Holmes), where the Metropolitan Police dragged its feet, claiming that the panel’s offices – which it had already cleared as being adequate to receive confidential information – would need an expensive renovation to install “new strengthened walls, a new stronger secure door, and reinforced windows”.
Dick is recorded in the inquiry panel’s minutes as saying that the inquiry was “not there to give a view on how well or badly the investigation was run. The [Terms of Reference are] about why people have not been brought to justice.” It should be obvious that it is impossible to adequately answer the question of why people have not been brought to justice without addressing how well or badly the investigation was run.
If an organisation’s senior leadership behaves in this way when faced with an inquiry into its own failings, then that organisation’s leadership needs to change. But will it? The ambiguity around which politician actually runs the Metropolitan Police – is it the Home Secretary Priti Patel? Is it the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan? – means that the answer, which should be “both”, is in practice “neither”.
But someone in elected office needs to step up and say that change is needed at the Metropolitan Police: starting with its chief commissioner.
[see also: The crackdown on the Clapham vigil shows why the policing bill is so dangerous]