(Photo: The Guardian)
By Josh Rutland – Regular Contributor
‘Institutionally corrupt’. That was the label stamped on the Metropolitan Police last week following another scandal dragging Britain’s biggest force back under the spotlight.
This latest allegation relates to a report investigating the force for a failed murder investigation over thirty years ago. In March 1987 Daniel Morgan, a private investigator, was found dead in the car park of the Golden Lion pub in Sydenham, south London. A bloodied axe remained at the scene while all of his valuables were left untouched – it was evident this was far from a botched robbery.
Yet for Mr Morgan’s family, it was the ensuing police investigation which caused the greatest anguish. The Met’s ‘lamentable’ forensic work, their failure to guard or even search the crime scene, their campaign of misinformation and the fact detectives never sought alibis from the main suspects meant the very people we entrusted to deliver justice actively tried to suppress it.
In a set of damning revelations published last week, the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel chaired by Baroness O’Loan mauled the Metropolitan Police’s conduct in a 1,200-page report, which finally gave Mr Morgan’s family some answers after 34 years.
The report follows five police inquiries and an inquest throughout the past three decades, which have all failed to hold anybody accountable for the tragic death. Mr Morgan’s murder came amid an era of pervasive police corruption – detectives and police chiefs commonly succumbed to bribery from criminal gangs during the 1980s who in return received ‘the right to operate’.
The panel noted the murky circumstances surrounding the case, with Mr Morgan’s close associates being convicted of bribery and multiple ‘unseemly links’ between the tabloid press and the police. The somewhat vague police statements at the time generated great cynicism, not least amongst his grieving family.
However the panel did not merely intend to unearth wrongdoing during the 1980s, it was far more concerned with the Met in its present state. The organisation has, irrespective of leadership, prioritised its own image above anything else.
Senior officers have repeatedly refused to take a fresh and critical look at past failings, have ‘ostracised’ colleagues who tried to report wrongdoing and seemingly tried to bury the case. Baroness O’Loan concluded that ‘concealing or denying failings, for the sake of the organisation’s public image, is dishonesty…and constitutes a form of institutional corruption’.
Even the current Commissioner, Dame Cressida Dick, has found it impossible to distance herself from the charges against her predecessors. The panel claimed she herself has placed hurdles in the way of uncovering the truth, even refusing to grant vital information to a misconduct investigation as the then-Assistant Commissioner. So is the Met rotten to the core, even today?
In an arguably weak defence, the Commissioner claimed she had offered the fullest level of co-operation to the panel and claimed she would consider the recommendations. However, she also made it clear she would not resign. Her colleague Assistant Commissioner Nick Ephgrave also defended her actions, although notably, it was Cressida Dick who promoted Mr Ephgrave from his position at Surrey Police in 2018 making it unlikely for him to criticise her.
Home Secretary Priti Patel was far less supportive though, describing the force’s conduct as ‘deeply alarming’ and claimed that the Met’s ‘litany of mistakes…irreparably damaged the chances of successful prosecution’. Likewise, John Penrose MP, who presides over the UK’s national anti-corruption strategy, labelled the panel’s findings as ‘horrifying’.
While the allegations of corruption and deceit largely relate to the Met’s senior leadership, as opposed to the rank and file officers at street-level, the verdict is no less ruinous. Despite strenuous efforts to root out corrupt officers during the 1990s, making dishonesty and deception much harder to get away with, it is clear the leaders in the Met Police remain tied to the same immoral values evidenced in foregone times. Senior officers appear more interested in protecting the force’s reputation than in solving murders.
The Commissioner’s weak vindication in the wake of Baroness O’Loan’s accusations only accelerate the rapidly eroding public trust in policing. The case of Mr Morgan is far from an isolated anomaly with the similarly-condemning 1998 Macpherson report citing ‘institutional racism’ in the force; this followed the racially-motivated murder of a black teenager called Stephen Lawrence in which the Met Police again bungled the investigation.
More recently the Independent Office for Police Conduct began an investigation into the Met, termed Operation Embley, in 2018 with claims regarding racism, interference in investigations and failures to investigate wrongdoing within the Met’s own anti-corruption unit. The conclusions of this investigation are yet to be published.
The stream of devastating scandals hitting the Met comes at a time when the force is facing anger from local communities too. Violent crime is spiralling, with predictions that teenage killings this year will surpass the 2008 record, while the enforcement of COVID-19 social restrictions and the response to protest in the past year has sparked fury amongst many.
So, can we trust the Metropolitan Police? As the organisation endures immense pressure to deliver in the face of dwindling public confidence, it seems inevitable that respect for the uniform will deteriorate.
This lack of respect unquestionably stems from the highest echelons of rank, notably the incumbent Commissioner and those closest to her. Their attitude of indifference towards decades of cover-up, corruption and incompetence alongside a raft of comparably reprehensible charges is indisputably the source of the Met’s problems.
Those who preceded Cressida Dick also bare remarkable parallels to her failings. Former Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe quit following the Met’s £2.5m Operation Midland, which investigated an entirely fabricated set of historical sexual abuse allegations. Likewise, Sir Paul Stephenson quit amid his response to the phone-hacking inquiry. Sir Ian Blair was also forced to quit due to his handling of the Jean Charles de Menezes shooting, an innocent man killed by armed officers. Commissioners and scandals seemingly coexist well together.
Yet Dame Cressida Dick’s contract expires in April 2022 with hints she will not seek an extension; great thought should be given to the appointment of the next Commissioner who will undeniably determine what the future looks like for the Met.
Nonetheless, the legacy of this report will likely taint the institution for a long time. The panel’s findings last week show how our most treasured public institutions are in desperate need of fresh leadership before we can even comprehend rebuilding trust.