It could almost be the title of a Waugh novel. Or perhaps one of those mystery-cum-romances written by upper-class lady novelists in the immediate post-war era – when driving fast cars in the South of France while sparring with strong-jawed heroes with a past was the height of sophistication.
It is a bit of a mystery quite why Cressida has risen to become Metropolitan Police Commissioner. She retired in 2015 and was appointed from an obscure Foreign Office security role in 2017. Was there really no other serving policeman or woman in the country able to do the job? Apparently not. Not even her role as Gold Commander in charge of the control room on the day when Jean-Charles de Menezes was killed was a problem, despite the failings of leadership and miscommunication revealed by various inquiries and the inquest into his death. Despite the Met being found to have committed “catastrophic errors” leading to the shooting, she did not have any “personal culpability“. Phew! No-one else was responsible either and, yet, somehow, these errors happen. It is the story of our times, applicable to pretty much any institution you care to name. The grosser and the more widespread the failings, the harder it is for anyone to accept responsibility. The buck stops nowhere these days.
But let’s be charitable and allow her one big mistake – after all the police and the Honours Committee did, both promoting and honouring her in the months after the shooting. What has her record been like since then? A bit of a curate’s egg – attempts to deal with gang and knife crime, a perennial problem in London, not one susceptible to easy solutions and always the subject of the usual criticisms by the usual suspects of any and all police tactics to deal with such difficult issues, terror attacks including the killing of a policeman, budget cuts etc.
She has not obviously been the worst Commissioner the Met has ever had. Nor one of the best. Her answers to interviews can be quite painful – never more so than when trying to explain that the Duchess of Cambridge was “working” when she paid a private visit to the Sarah Everard memorial on Clapham Common whereas everyone else there should expect to be targeted by the police enforcing Covid rules. The tin ear for how this came across to women incensed at the abduction and rape by a serving police officer (and killing – for which the officer has accepted responsibility, though he has yet to plead on the murder charge) was bizarre, especially given how concerned the upper echelons of the police are to appear “diverse” and “representative“. (Perhaps Representing the Pissed Off Women community has yet to make it to the Met’s HR manual.) She had little concern for Covid rules when appearing on Westminster Bridge, not socially distanced, with other policemen and women to clap the NHS. Why should she worry about such a thing? The police enforce the rules and, ahem, often make them up as well.
The biggest criticism is that she has failed to clean up the messes left by her predecessors: principally Operation Midland where there has been a marked reluctance by the Met to implement any of the recommended changes – to its training, procedures or investigative approach – despite the quite astonishing list of police failings and unlawful acts uncovered. (Much as with De Menezes, Ms Dick has been cleared of any attempt to mislead the public about her role in the affair before she retired. Delightful as it is to see this, this is not really the principal issue of concern.) The Met seem to think that mulish obstinacy and stalling until the recommendations are long forgotten will ensure that they have to change nothing substantive. In this, they may very well be right. One of Cressida’s priorities is to increase the number of ethnic minority and women police officers. Desirable as this may be, even more desirable, essential even, is a police force which understands the law, does not mislead courts, knows how to investigate properly and corrects its mistakes. Being in charge involves something more than being a sort of uber-HR director after all.
But now we have the Independent Report into the Daniel Morgan murder. It is a murky, shocking and deeply unedifying tale, involving murder, corruption, botched investigations (by both the Met and other police forces), cover-ups, conflicts of interest, lies, leaking of confidential information, disclosure failures, breaches of basic IT security etc – at all levels of the Met right to the very top and over a prolonged period. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong – and this was intended by far too many of the officers involved. It is an immensely complex matter – set out in 3 volumes and 1,276 pages. Two chapters are very well worth reading: Ch.10 – “Corruption: Venality to Lack of Candour” and Ch. 11 – “The challenges of securing co-operation.“
It is all very reminiscent of the Met in the 1970’s before Sir Robert Mark became Commissioner and stated, crisply and accurately, that the CID was “the most routinely corrupt organization in London“. The heart of this case too is police corruption, a corruption which the Panel describes as institutional, a conclusion amply justified by what is set out in the Report. While much of the original events happened long before Ms Dick was a senior officer, there are three findings which should raise very grave concerns about her behaviour: –
- As Assistant Commissioner between 2011 – 2013 she was responsible for agreeing how the Met would provide information to the Panel. Despite promising “exceptional and full disclosure” she took every step to limit what would be disclosed and how.
- This continued after she became Commissioner. There was no improvement in co-operation, with significant delays to the production of documents (some only finally received years after asking), evidence and access to police records. Rather, as set out in Ch 11, paras 70 – 71, the Met were “determined not to permit access to the [police] system which would have enabled the panel to carry out its work far more effectively and efficiently.” No “reasonable explanation” was ever received for the refusal by her and others over 7 years to permit “proper access“. The Panel’s conclusion was that there were “significant impediments” and the Met “did not behave with candour, in an open, honest and transparent way.” Bluntly, it obstructed an inquiry set up by the Home Secretary. Cressida Dick was involved in that obstruction and in charge as it continued.
- As at December 2020 the Met advised the Panel that “it uses different definitions of corruption depending on the circumstances. However, they have failed to explain what the different definitions are or what the different circumstances might be.” This does not inspire confidence that the Met would recognise corruption when it happens, bother to investigate it or take any effective action against anyone found to have crossed these invisible and movable lines. (Perhaps she was too busy being “absolutely outraged” at Line of Duty depicting “casual and extreme corruption” as a common occurrence in policing to notice what was happening closer to home.)
How can someone in charge of an organisation criticised in such a manner (as well as so personally) in all conscience stay in charge? We have become inured to such people squeezing out a weaselly apology and the usual lessons learned mantra. This report breaks new ground in helpfully listing out for us all the lessons which have already not been learned and which will doubtless not be learned again. Perhaps her contract won’t be renewed and she can retire (again) in due course. Maybe Priti will shout at her in private.
But this simply is not good enough. First Midland, now this. If she had any honour or self-respect or any care for the reputation of the police, she would go. Now.