“That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach.” (Huxley)
As with history, so with investigation reports. On the Today programme, Mark Rowley, Met Commissioner, said 100 officers were on restricted duties “because frankly we don’t trust them to talk to members of the public”. 500 officers were subject to misconduct investigations plus another 3,000 who also could not be deployed because of injury, mental health problems or inadequate performance. 10% of the Met is neither use nor ornament. He complained, understandably, about the 100 officers, “It’s completely mad that I have to employ people like that as police officers.” Quite.
Still, no-one made the Met employ them. They were chosen. By a force which should know how to investigate and ask questions. So how did they get in? It’s usually better not to hire inadequates than complain about the difficulties of getting them out when you later discover they’re useless or crooks. Surely – surely – the Met was rigorous when hiring?
Go on. Guess. There is, as always, a report, specifically, the recent HMICFRS report. This details a quite shocking catalogue of inadequate, inconsistent due diligence, vetting, pre-employment checks, and a system for hiring police officers in forces everywhere which is, bluntly, unfit for purpose. Little wonder criminals have been hired, men with a record of domestic violence, with links to criminal gangs and so on. The lack of vetting and checking continued after employment. Joined up thinking was missing; warning signals ignored. The police were blissfully oblivious of the importance of knowing basic facts about those seeking to join, of the importance of character. They didn’t even manage to tick boxes, such as they were.
The report details the consequences: a culture of abuse of power, misogyny, sexism, discriminatory attitudes, bullying, harassment, women not listened to, corruption and a breakdown in trust. Couzens was not a one-off. It was inevitable that he – and far too many like him – would get to wear the uniform and abuse the powers going with it because, as Martin Parr, the Chief Inspector put it, the police were not sufficiently “sceptical of those who want to wear the uniform”. Curiosity is a much underrated – and much needed – virtue.
This report follows swiftly on from others on police culture this year: a Home Office inquiry,(still to report), the Dame Louise Casey report, the Charing Cross station report by the IOPC (9 separate investigations) and 2 other HMICFRS reports in March and September this year on the Met. There have been prosecutions and convictions. More are expected. Rowley is asking for legal changes to allow him to get rid of bad police officers. What about the Met’s disciplinary processes? If of the same standard as their vetting, little wonder they have problems. Curbing the powers of the Police Federation is also long overdue.
But the most shocking aspect of this report is found in the Introduction, Section 2. There was a 2012 report on the abuse of police powers to perpetrate sexual violence. With 32 recommendations. In 2017, yet another report which found that the 2012 report had been ignored as had various others. And in 2019: another report – “Shining a Light on Betrayal: Abuse of position for a sexual purpose” said that progress was far too slow.
So the problems of abusive policemen grew, got worse and here we are – with 5 reports in one year saying the same damn thing again, a frustrated Met Commissioner and an under-performing force, in special measures, having to take the steps which should have been taken long ago, under both public and financial pressure and with one hell of a job to rebuild public trust.
If only the police had paid attention to the earlier reports. If only they had implemented their recommendations. If only the Home Secretaries (Mrs May, Ms Rudd, Mr Javid, Ms Patel) and Police Ministers (Damian Green, Nick Herbert, Nick Hurd, Kit Malthouse) then in place had insisted on this being done.
If only – a motto for our times.
It is not just this aspect of police culture where this is happening. The Henriques report after Operation Midland has been ignored. (There was even an HMICFRS report on how slow the Met was in responding to that report.) So has the Daniel Morgan report. The College of Policing has finally been told to make changes to its guidance on non-crime hate incidents a year after the Court of Appeal ruling in the Miller case. Meanwhile, it has drawn up guidance on intimate searches which potentially breaches S. 55(7) of PACE (such searches can only be by an officer of the same sex as the person being searched. It says it has legal advice that its new approach is lawful but won’t share it.) This is not just a matter of who searches whom; if the law is broken any such search may, prima facie, be assault and anything found might not be usable in evidence. Given the police’s all too frequent willingness to ignore the law (see, for instance, the police acting unlawfully over the Everard protest), a large dollop of scepticism about the College of Policing’s pronouncement is advisable. This too is an outfit needing a rigorous review and challenge. Women – whether in the police or outside – are often those suffering most as a result. But all are at risk and affected.
Mulish obstinacy has too often been the police’s response to criticism. As bad has been the inability of Police Ministers to hold the police to account. Why should they? They refuse to hold themselves to account and ignore reports in the same way. See the 2018 Dame Laura Cox report on bullying in Parliament, its contents likely echoed by the soon-to-be written report by Adam Tolley KC on alleged bullying by the Justice Minister/ex-Foreign Secretary. Will the current Police Minister, Chris Philp (bizarrely reprieved by Sunak after his short inglorious stint as Chief Secretary to the Truss Treasury) insist on all the recommendations in these reports being implemented, in full, by when and tell the police top brass they can whistle for any praise, baubles or bonuses unless this is done?
The time to implement a report’s lessons learned is as soon as possible after the report is published – not years later – and after yet more reports. This is the one lesson which should be learnt. But won’t be. If we could only sell our ability to write endless reports, ignore them and write the same reports again, multiple times but a bit more angrily, the country would soon have a growing, profitable industry to pay for our increasingly useless services.