This article originally appeared in our Elevenses newsletter.
Good morning. Cressida Dick is the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. What has to happen for her to lose her job?
A damning report into the unsolved murder of Daniel Morgan wasn’t enough. Morgan, a private detective, was found dead in a pub car park in 1987, an axe in the back of the head. Years of whispers alleged that Met corruption played a part – both in the killing itself and the subsequent cover-up. An official report branded Scotland Yard “institutionally corrupt” and personally censured Dick for obstructing the investigation. The Met – her Met – was accused of misleading the public and putting worries about its reputation above rooting out police corruption.
Nor was it enough when the mother of two murdered sisters, Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry, hit out at the Met’s “toxic” culture after officers guarding the crime scene photographed their bodies and took selfies, sharing the pictures in a WhatsApp group. Smallman, 27, and Henry, 46, were stabbed to death in a north-west London park last year. Mina Smallman, their mother, said those officers had “dehumanised” her daughters. “If ever we needed an example of how toxic it has become, those police officers felt so safe, so untouchable, that they felt they could take photographs of dead black girls and send them on,” she said. “It speaks volumes of the ethos that runs through the Metropolitan Police.”
It wasn’t enough when a serving officer in the Met was arrested on suspicion of the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard – even when it emerged he had been accused of two cases of indecent exposure just days earlier. It wasn’t enough when officers trampled flowers and candles laid out in tribute to Everard at a vigil in south London, nor when they sought to silence women speaking out in her memory, manhandling and arresting those gathered to remember a 33-year-old woman murdered by one of their own.
So it probably won’t be enough now, even after the gut-wrenching details of Everard’s final hours filtered out at the Old Bailey this week. Even though she was lured off the street by an off-duty officer brandishing his warrant and handcuffs; even though she was strangled with his police belt. Despite his fellow officers knowing that he was “attracted to violent sexual pornography” as early as 2002; despite him being nicknamed “The Rapist” at a previous job because he made female colleagues uncomfortable.
Despite all of this happening in the last year-and-a-half.
It can be hard to pinpoint where a “culture” in an organisation emanates from, particularly in one as sprawling and byzantine as the Metropolitan Police. But in this case the rap-sheet is damning: Cressida Dick is in charge of an institution which, time and time again, exercises violence and brutality with impunity. The rot may not always start at the top – but it surely must stop there now. Without institutional-wide change it’s easy enough to dismiss Wayne Couzens as an unfortunate anomaly. When onus is shifted to the individual, systemic change is unnecessary – the bad apple has been rooted out, let’s close ranks and move on. It’s that culture which emboldens some of Couzens’ colleagues to speak “supportively of him” in court and a senior investigator on the case to claim they “do not view” him as a police officer, dismissing in a stroke any responsibility Scotland Yard might have for her death.
People – women, especially – don’t trust the Met. That matters – particularly when the only policy response to an instance of shocking police violence has been “more police”. Cressida Dick’s resignation won’t fix a broken institution. But her enduring presence atop it could push it beyond the point of rescue.
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