Hugh Gault looks at the damning Casey review of the Metropolitan Police
“I was forced out,” complained Dame Cressida Dick on 10th February 2022 after her dismissal by the Mayor of London and the Home Secretary, a few months after they had extended her contract for two years to 2024. Well, now we know why. Dick commissioned the review by Baroness Casey to examine standards of behaviour and internal culture within the Met and make recommendations for change. It was in response to a series of well-known but tragic episodes and breaches of trust on her watch, of which Sarah Everard’s murder was the most notorious but not the only one. These might be thought the result of inadequate vetting, recruitment, training and management of individual officers, but the report concludes that the issue is much more deep-seated than that.
Forty years after Scarman and nearly 25 after Macpherson, how have culture, standards and public trust moved on? Not at all, is the conclusion of Casey’s 363-page damning report, released on 21st March. Indeed, in many respects, matters are far worse. It has not been a continuous deterioration in those 40 years, of course. At various stages there have been marked improvements, particularly after the Scarman and Macpherson reports themselves, when the Met Police was galvanised into action.
Since Sir Robert Mark departed in 1977, the Met has had 11 commissioners, two of whom have been acting. The two charged with implementing Scarman and Macpherson were Sir Kenneth Newman, between 1982 and 1987, and the longest-serving, Sir Paul Condon, respectively. But the challenges of leadership, culture change and reform now facing Sir Mark Rowley are more formidable. In post only since September, he is aware of their scale, yet seems determined to make the Met Police accountable to the London public it serves.
However, his initial reaction repudiating Casey’s use of the term ‘institutional’ might be thought denial rather than the enlightened response required. Yet Rowley will be aware of the need to maintain morale and may have judged that labelling the service will not benefit the many people who are in the Met for the right reasons – unless it also forces the changes that they seek as much as anyone. It is this progress that will be measured after two and five years, and only then, Casey concludes in a few words, might insufficient progress warrant restructuring into national, specialist and London responsibilities. This might make strategy clearer in each area, but culture will still be fundamental – particularly if resources remain insufficient.
Regardless of Rowley’s intent, however, there will have to be clear evidence that the dangerous and inadequate have been rooted out (a task on which he has already started) and that the service as a whole is moving forward. This will take leadership as well as good management, characteristics that were noticeably absent in recent years when, as Casey reports, between 2016 and March 2022, public trust fell from 89% to 66% and public confidence in local policing from 70% to 45%. Both of these measures are significant. Without trust, there is unlikely to be the public consent that policing depends on.
Most people’s experience of any police force will be at a local level where prevention is as fundamental as reaction. Yet the Met have concentrated on the specialist, reactive elements at the expense of community policing in neighbourhoods, even to the extent of removing the link between commanders, who used to operate at a London borough level but may now cover as many as four local authorities. This dilutes community accountability, especially when specialist units do not have to defer to the local commander in whose area they may be conducting an operation.
Another of the causes Casey identifies is poor management, particularly at the heart of the organisation. Numbers in these management and supervisory (sergeant and inspector) grades have decreased over the last decade, even while the overall number of full-time officers they are expected to manage has increased. These middle management grades are also less diverse than are constables. At present, there are competing and incompatible objectives as well as role confusion between the elite services, such as terrorism and firearms, and the everyday task of neighbourhood policing.
So, what is the Met Police, and who is it meant to serve?
The primary accountability ought to be to the public, but this seems to have become confused with juggling resources, the staff and other kit, not least IT, intended to deliver it. The overall picture in Casey’s report is predominantly of a badly organised, mismanaged and inadequate service.
Austerity and cuts since 2010 have played their part, but this does not explain the chaos that is evident. No wonder Baroness Doreen Lawrence, following Louise Casey, can dismiss the “few bad apples” explanation and describe it as “rotten to the core”. As the mother of Stephen Lawrence, whose murder led to the Macpherson report nearly a generation ago, this must be particularly distressing though, no doubt, not a surprise. In one of the interviews Baroness Casey gave on publication, she highlighted how the Met Police thought itself one of the best police forces in the world. Her aim, she said, was simply to make it the best in London. This is a telling distinction that gets at purpose, profile and delivery, as well as transparency and accountability. Even if you don’t read the report, read the summary.