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IOPC Report on Metropolitan Police Officers' Conduct: Charing Cross Police Station

Volume 708: debated on Wednesday 2 February 2022

(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary if she will make a statement on the Independent Office for Police Conduct report on police officers’ conduct at Charing Cross police station.

As the House is aware, the Independent Office for Police Conduct yesterday published the findings of an investigation into bullying and discrimination at Charing Cross police station between 2016 and 2018. The report makes extremely disturbing reading. It describes abhorrent behaviour and misogynistic, racist and homophobic communications between officers, which appear to have become commonplace. On a personal note, as someone who knows the Met well, I cannot begin to describe my horror at the revelations in the report.

It is right that individuals found to have committed gross misconduct have been dismissed and cannot re-join policing. However, this is obviously about more than individuals; it is about how a toxic culture can develop and fester in parts of a police force—a culture that is allowed to go unchallenged until a brave officer blows the whistle or a message is discovered on an officer’s phone. These events have a corrosive impact on public trust in policing and undermine the work of the thousands of diligent and brave police officers who keep us safe every day. I am grateful for the work of the IOPC in investigating these allegations, and I expect the Metropolitan Police Service and the Mayor of London to implement the report’s recommendations as soon as practically possible.

We are also taking action to address these issues. The Home Secretary has established the Angiolini inquiry, which has now started, and Dame Elish is examining the career of Sarah Everard’s killer. While focused on that case, she will be considering whether the culture in the places where Sarah’s murderer worked meant that alarm bells did not ring earlier. In the second part of her inquiry, we expect a light to be shone on wider policing, including on those cultural issues.

In addition, at the Home Secretary’s request, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire rescue services is currently inspecting forces across England and Wales to judge their vetting and counter-corruption capabilities. As part of this, we have specifically asked it to look at how forces are ensuring that misogyny and sexism are identified are dealt with in the workplace. We are also working closely with the National Police Chiefs’ Council to ensure professional standards on social media use for all police officers.

Being a police officer is an honour, conferring special status on those who serve. The findings of the IOPC’s report are shaming for those who have abused that honour and for the Metropolitan police. Standards must be raised. The precious bond of trust between the public and the police depends upon it.

As a London MP, there are few opportunities to seek answers on the performance of the Metropolitan police, so I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question.

The publication of the report by the Independent Office for Police Conduct joins the list of misdemeanours that have occurred in the Met in recent years. The IOPC opened its investigation in March 2018 following claims that an officer had sex with a drunk person at a police station. This is, in itself, a criminal offence, and it is even more shocking following the rape and murder of Sarah Everard by a serving police officer less than a year ago. The report says that officers searched social media with the intention of having sex with people they have made contact with through being a victim of crime. This is an egregious breach of trust with the public and must be addressed immediately. Officers were found to have sent messages to a female on a shared group chat saying:

“I would happily rape you…if I was single I would happily chloroform you.”

Other officers gleefully boasted about their behaviour by sending messages including:

“You ever slapped your missus? It makes them love you more. Seriously since I did that she won’t leave me alone…Knock a bird about and she will love you. Human nature.”

It surely is not.

The investigation uncovered evidence in relation to bullying, violence towards women, perverting the course of justice, discriminatory language and other inappropriate behaviours. The range and severity of these messages demonstrates that they are not humorous comments but evidence of a sinister and obnoxious culture that has pervaded the very organisation and individuals who are supposed to uphold the law. Worst of all, it tarnishes the reputations of all the decent, hard-working employees of the MPS.

Where is the Mayor of London in all this? Recently we heard his comments on the cost of living, accusations about the Prime Minister, Brexit, levelling up and drug decriminalisation—on everything except what he is responsible for, the policing of London. While more young people are murdered on the streets of London and police officers commit crimes, we need leadership on keeping Londoners safe, and that is not happening.

Will the Minister, first, look at the Sexual Offences Act 2003 with a view to changing the law so that any person, of any age, who is in a position of trust with any other persons, regardless of their age, commits a criminal offence if they seek to involve the other person in sexual activity? Secondly, will he expand and speed up Baroness Casey’s review of the Metropolitan police’s culture and standards to take into account behaviours outside the realm of the workplace so that proper background checks are made on the appointment of MPS staff in all departments, including the MO7 taskforce? Finally, will he seek the establishment of a confidential complaints system in the MPS so that whistleblowers, particularly women, can raise their concerns without being subjected to campaigns of threats, intimidation, coercion and abuse by others?

Confidence in the MPS is incredibly low following a number of abuses. If the public decide they no longer have confidence in those who police them, then that really would be a crime.

I share my hon. Friend’s horror at some of the messages that have been published, which really are abhorrent. As I understand it, the unit that is being investigated has since been disbanded, and quite rightly so, with disciplinary action following.

With regard to my hon. Friend’s specific requests, on the offence, I am certainly happy to look at that suggestion and explore it further as a possibility. On the Casey review, he is quite right that Dame Louise Casey has been appointed by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to examine cultural issues within the force.

Obviously, that started with the appalling killing of Sarah Everard and the consequences thereof, but I am sure, knowing Dame Louise as I do, that she will be looking closely at all these issues as they unfold, sadly, on an almost weekly basis in the newspapers. I have asked today for a meeting with her so that I can understand exactly where her inquiry is going and establish for myself that it will fit neatly with the work we are doing, through the inspectorate and through the Angiolini inquiry, into wider issues of culture in the Met and elsewhere in policing. On the establishment of whistle-blowing systems, one of our specific requests of the inspectorate as it looks at all the police forces across the UK is that it make sures that adequate whistleblowing facilities are in place—or that the process is there—that will allow officers who want to call out bad behaviour to do so with confidence. Again, it is worth saying that although it is possible to put in place processes, practices, manuals and training, and we can do our best to train police officers and to instil in them the right values—that has never been more important than now, as we are having such a huge influx of new, young police officers waiting to be filled with the right kind of values—this still does point to a culture of leadership making it clear that such behaviour is not to be tolerated, and projecting confidence on officers to step forward and call out bad behaviour and this kind of communication. Whatever the processes we put in place, unless the wider leadership of UK policing is able to project that confidence, I think we will fail in our mission.

May I associate myself with the comments from the Minister, particularly his thanks to the IOPC for the report? The behaviour outlined in the report is truly appalling. As a woman and a mother, I found it chilling. Such shameful behaviour undermines policing and threatens public trust. The Metropolitan police must accept and urgently implement the IOPC’s 15 recommendations.

Sadly, this is not just an issue in London; there have been disgraceful cases involving misogyny or racism among officers in Sussex, Hampshire, Leicestershire and Scotland. Ministers will know about these—we have been aware of them for some years. It is not good enough to leave police forces to solve these problems, or to wait until all the different reviews are completed. We need action now from the Government to tackle discrimination and prejudice within policing, and to help rebuild confidence.

Police training needs overhauling now, so that police officers get ongoing training throughout their careers, including on anti-racism and on tackling violence against women and girls. Action is needed now on the wholly inappropriate use of social media to perpetuate prejudice or bullying. What are the Government doing now to make sure that that happens? Action is needed now to tackle racism within the police force, but the National Police Chiefs’ Council action plan on race is 18 months overdue. Why is the Home Office not making sure that this happens sooner?

The Home Office inquiry after the murder of Sarah Everard is still non-statutory, meaning that it still does not have the full range of powers. Will the Minister listen to Labour’s calls and place it on a statutory footing? If the Government want to show that they believe in tackling misogyny, at a time when the rape charge rate has fallen to a record low of 1.3%, will the Minister finally commit now to making tackling violence against women a strategic policing requirement?

Confidence in the police is absolutely fundamental—to protecting victims, catching criminals and keeping our communities safe. We all want the police to be the best that they can be—victims deserve it, the public deserve it and all good police officers deserve it. We need a plan from the Government to make sure that that happens. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner must now spend every minute of her remaining time working to make the Met the best that it can be. That means tackling serious violence, and violence against women and girls, and getting prosecution rates up, but it also means a relentless focus on raising standards. Nothing less will do.

I recognise that the hon. Lady’s job is to challenge the Government to do ever better, and I welcome her doing so, but I hope she will bring the same forensic challenge to the Mayor of London. Having done the job of deputy Mayor for policing and crime, I would certainly have taken responsibility for driving such changes forward from City Hall. Indeed, we faced similar problems between 2008 and 2012, established our own race and faith inquiry and drove through some of the very difficult reforms that were required a decade ago. I hope she will speak to her party colleague in City Hall and press him also to bring action.

While the hon. Lady is right to urge us into ever-greater action on these matters, I know she recognises that there is plenty of work already ongoing. We are, for example, working closely with the National Police Chiefs’ Council as part of the new national working group on inappropriate social media use by police officers, working out what more we can do to drive that down. I recently met the chair of the scrutiny panel for the NPCC race and equality plan, and I am confident she will be able to bring impetus, momentum and scrutiny to the work it is doing.

We have not made the Angiolini inquiry statutory, because we want to get on with it. We need speed if we are to solve some of these problems fast and maintain confidence in UK policing. If we find, in discussion with Dame Elish, that the statutory basis is required, we will consider that. For the moment, we want to get on with it fast and, as I say, the work has already started. We do not believe, given the way the police regulations are drawn, that Dame Elish will face any obstacle in obtaining the evidence she needs from those forces involved in stage 1 of the inquiry, but if obstacles are put in her way, we are committed to trying to remove them for her. We are examining the strategic policing requirement at the moment and will make announcements about what is or is not included in it in the months to come.

Words cannot really cover how I felt when I read the IOPC report; that anybody could think that using such language is acceptable, let alone police officers—and police officers based in my constituency, in a police station just up the road. I will be meeting the borough commander for Westminster tomorrow to discuss the report and how he and his colleagues plan to bring its recommendations to pass. I also welcome the review by Dame Louise Casey; I have worked with her for many years and I know she will leave no stone unturned when it comes to looking at the culture of the Metropolitan Police.

Does my right hon. Friend agree, however, that although it is clear there are rogue police officers in the Metropolitan Police and other police services, there are thousands and thousands of dedicated and hardworking police officers up and down the country who are equally disgusted? Will he join me in thanking them for their service?

I share my hon. Friend’s disgust at these events. As a former Westminster councillor and the London Assembly member for the area that includes Charing Cross police station, and having visited the police station to see its work in policing one of the most diverse, sensitive and difficult parts of the country and the capital, I find it shocking to see such evidence. I agree that that disgust and fury will be shared by the thousands of police officers across the United Kingdom who do extraordinary things every day to keep us safe. It will be shared not least, given the nature of the messages, by the ever increasing numbers of female and black and minority ethnic officers—the numbers in UK policing are now at an all-time high in both categories—who are doing their best to help us all in changing the face of British policing.

This report is truly shocking. One key issue is the screening out of unsuitable applicants right at the start. I want to ask about current recruitment and vetting, as so many officers are now being employed. Does the Minister believe that the use of solely online recruitment, assessment, checks and offers is appropriate? That is happening in several forces, where there are no face-to-face interviews. One recruit said that the first time he had a face-to-face interview was when he was being measured for his uniform. I will just quote what Karen Ingala-Smith of the anti-violence charity Nia said, referring to Sarah Everard’s killer:

“Couzens was at least the 15th serving or former officer to have killed a woman. Now is the time for more rigorous checks, not fast-track online selection processes”.

As I am sure the Chair of the Select Committee will recognise, the advent of the pandemic meant that we had to find innovative ways to continue with our recruitment process. We are obviously reviewing them as we emerge from the pandemic, to ensure that we get them exactly right. As I explained earlier and as I am sure the right hon. Lady knows, we have commissioned a general inquiry across UK policing to look at vetting procedures to make sure that the police across the UK have consistency—because each force is responsible for its own vetting—and that that net is drawn as sharply as we possibly can to ensure that we get the right people into policing.

Critically, however, it is important that we monitor carefully how those new young police officers coming through feel and what they are being exposed to, and give them the confidence to know that where there is bad behaviour, they are able to call it out without detriment to themselves. There is not just one piece of the jigsaw; an entire machine needs to be built to ensure integrity in all police officers—to build confidence among the British people that the right people are getting into policing, that they are being maintained in policing and that, where things go wrong, corrective action can be taken quickly.

The racism, misogyny and bullying uncovered by the report are damning, but I do not believe that it is reflective of the vast majority of our police forces, as my right hon. Friend just said. We owe it to those officers to root out this behaviour. The IOPC started its investigations four years ago, and similar investigations in Hampshire—as the Minister will know, as my near neighbour—took three years. What is my right hon. Friend doing to ensure that investigations are completed in a more reasonable timeframe, and that anonymity is not used to hide those who are involved in such heinous behaviours?

My right hon. Friend is quite right that we need to ensure that inquiries are speeded up as much as possible. I hope that she will remember that, a year or so ago, we introduced reforms to the way in which the IOPC operates to push it to ever greater alacrity in its inquiries. Now, in the case of an inquiry going over 12 months, it is required to write a letter to the appropriate authority—whether that is the police and crime commissioner or me—to explain why. Often, the delay is the fault not necessarily of the IOPC, but of inquests, criminal inquiries or correspondence providing information that extends the timeframe. However, we need to know why.

As far as transparency and anonymity are concerned, I have written recently to all legally qualified chairs of disciplinary panels to say that there should be a stringent examination of whether those hearings need to be held in private or in public. It is absolutely vital for trust in policing that the British people not only know that justice is being done in a disciplinary process, but can see it too.

Order. I want to try to get everyone in but, as colleagues are aware, we have another statement and then further business, so I request that questions are short and to the point, which will enable the Minister to be short and to the point as well.

In the last year alone, Cressida Dick was forced to make two public apologies for corruption and cover-up, in the Daniel Morgan murder case and—although she never apologised—for the atrocious mishandling of the vigil for Sarah Everard. We have seen the Met accused of institutional corruption, misogyny, racism and, following the Stephen Port killings, homophobia, not to mention the handling of the partygate fiasco. Now we have this damning report on the Charing Cross police station by the Independent Office for Police Conduct. This lack of leadership and the culture of cover-up are letting down honourable rank-and-file police officers, so why did the Home Secretary think that it was remotely acceptable recently to extend Cressida Dick’s term, as opposed to demanding her resignation?

Two of the matters that the hon. Lady refers to are still under investigation by Her Majesty’s inspectorate and I hope that that will conclude shortly. It is worth pointing out that this incident was discovered shortly after the commissioner became commissioner and the unit was disbanded shortly thereafter on her watch. The reason that her contract was extended is that we thought she was the best person for the job.

As someone who represents a central London constituency, I am shocked and horrified by these revelations and the toxic culture that it represents in some parts of the Metropolitan police. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that he will bring up these concerns with the Mayor of London, because the Mayor needs to take responsibility for sorting out the culture of the Metropolitan police?

As somebody who, as I said, served in City Hall as deputy mayor for policing, I can tell the House that the intention of the Greater London Authority Act 1999, which created the mayoralty and put the police authority and then the Metropolitan police under the control of the Mayor of London, was to ensure that the forensic examination of Met performance and internal processes could be done as close to the frontline as possible and that the Mayor should be in the driving seat.

As one of the two Members of Parliament for Westminster, I have always greatly valued and supported the work of our local police, and I think that our good and decent police officers will also be appalled by what they have seen in the past few days. They know what we know—that policing a young, modern, diverse city such as Westminster and London is founded on trust. That trust will also be reflected by having a police service that reflects London, so will the Minister tell us what immediate steps he is taking to review the progress, which has faltered over recent years, in ensuring that London’s police service is as diverse in all its forms as the city that it polices?

Hon. Members will have seen that, as part of our uplift programme not just in London, but elsewhere, we are specifically pushing to increase diversity both in terms of gender and race within policing. That is important nowhere more than in London and we have been working closely with the Metropolitan police to maximise the possibility of not only people from a BME background, but women joining the police force.

The Minister will be aware that I have spoken about the issue of the Met police on a number of occasions. I am very proud to represent Vauxhall in south London. It is a diverse constituency where, if I am honest, sometimes the relationship between the community and the police can be fractious. We have a number of great community leaders who are willing to work and build the trust between the police and the community. However, reports such as this just blow that confidence out. How can I reassure my diverse community—my diverse community of young black children, of LGBT people, of women who feel let down by the police—that they can have confidence and trust in the police? How will the Minister address the issues relating to the fact that, when we come to summer, we will see our police out on the streets and the young who are fearful of the police will not trust them, women who want to go out across Vauxhall at night will be scared to approach the police, and our LGBT people who want to go out and enjoy themselves will not want to come forward to the police? How is he going to address that culture now?

Having wrestled with these issues in the past, I completely agree with the hon. Lady that it is totally critical that there is a strong bond of trust with communities who have perhaps had a fractious relationship with the police. I think that the best thing that they can do is decide to be the change themselves, and I urge all communities in London and elsewhere to put forward their brightest and best to be police officers.

Cutting 21,000 police officers since 2010 has led to the rush to recruit officers to backfill those gaps, and the vetting of those officers is crucial. Does the Minister think that recruiting people purely through interviews online and doing that vetting purely online is suitable, given that the police are such a customer-facing, hands-on—sometimes literally— service with the public?

It is worth pointing out that, while the assessment process was online, once those police officers enter training, it is not accepted that they will necessarily be attested at the end. They are constantly assessed throughout their training on whether or not they are suitable. We continue to monitor their performance not just through training and in the immediate months after their acquisition, but thereafter. Having said that, we have to be slightly careful to bear in mind that, of the 11,000-odd who have stepped forward to be police officers, the vast majority of them are bright, smart, well-meaning and well-motivated people with the right kind of values to be police officers, and we have high hopes for them in the future.

The report was chilling. What worried me most was that the horrific cases were referred to the IOPC in 2018, yet the concerns about sexist discrimination and sexual harassment in the London Metropolitan police were not addressed by the time of the horrific murders of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, and Sarah Everard, who has been mentioned a few times. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi), I have had young women in my constituency writing to me and saying that they do not feel safe walking around at night in my constituency. As someone who had a bad experience with the police before I became an MP, I ask the Minister to set out some tangible steps the Government are taking to ensure that the misogyny in the force is tackled and that they are actually doing a proper job, so I can reassure my young constituents that they are safe to walk around in Hampstead and Kilburn.

As I explained earlier, we are engaging at all levels with the various actions plans that are in place to try to bring change in policing. And, of course, we are injecting a much more diverse shot of energy and personnel into policing through the uplift programme. However, it is—I am not making a political point—primarily the job of the Mayor of London to hold the commissioner to account on these issues. We are sending in the inspectors not just to London but to every force to look at their vetting and anti-corruption processes to make sure they are functioning well, but with a particular emphasis on the ability internally to call out exactly this kind of behaviour. It appears that this incident came to light after phones were brought in to be checked after a previous incident—this was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Dr Offord)—and they were discovered almost accidentally. We have to ask why. Why were there not police officers calling out that behaviour? That is what we are sending in the inspectors to have a look at.

The Minister will understand that this case, among other things, will reinforce the profound concern about the level of violence towards women and the lack of accountability for men who are responsible for that violence. As my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones) alluded to in her remarks, the Government have so far refused to make violence against women and girls a strategic policing priority. Given the seriousness of this latest report, the fact that it is not an isolated case and the clear need for cultural change across the Metropolitan police, will the Minister stop procrastinating and bring that in?

We have not refused at all. We have said we will consider it, along with all the other horrendous crimes that, sadly, teem around this country and which we have to deal with. As I say, we will publish our findings on the strategic policing requirement shortly.

I am the only female former police officer currently serving in this place. Although I served with dedicated officers, I would be lying if I said that I did not recognise an element of the culture from my own service over 28 years ago. Training is absolutely vital. Post the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, all police officers and staff across the UK attended three days of diversity training. It was a big undertaking, but it visibly demonstrated to the public that we were taking this seriously. What steps is the Minister taking and what conversations is he having with the College of Policing for something similar?

The hon. Lady speaks with knowledge and she is exactly right. We are in intensive conversation with the College of Policing, which, as I hope she knows, is under new leadership, to ensure that we get the package of training exactly right, and, specifically, that the training catches up with modern phenomena, which perhaps it has been a little slow to do, such as social media.

The findings of this report were deeply shocking, but if we look just at this last year, we have seen that the Metropolitan police have deep-rooted structural problems, from racism to bullying to misogyny. Currently, we have a commissioner in the job that I do not believe is fit for purpose. Does the Minister agree that, to really tackle the broken culture in the Metropolitan police, we also need to change the commissioner?

I recognise that media coverage has the tendency to compress time. It is worth pointing out that the issue came to light in 2017 and the unit was disbanded in 2018. Charing Cross police station was merged into a wider borough operational command under new leadership, which is committed to driving out this kind of appalling behaviour. Whether that culture persists, and the vigour with which the Met is pursuing it, will be revealed, we hope, by both the Angiolini inquiry and the work of Dame Louise Casey. I urge the hon. Lady to wait for those conclusions.

This cultural problem does not just apply to Charing Cross, or even, as my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones) said, to the Met. It also does not just apply to middle-ranking and junior officers. As a councillor and now a Member of this House, I worked with Chief Superintendent Paul Martin and Chief Inspector Ricky Kandohla, who were both found guilty last week of gross misconduct and dismissed without notice for a series of offences. The chief superintendent led the three-borough basic command unit and was found to have committed bullying and discriminatory conduct towards a female police officer, misuse of a bank card, and impropriety over a promotion. Will the Minister assure the House that any reviews will address the cultures within our police forces right to the top of senior levels?

The report not only makes for incredibly uncomfortable and difficult reading, but destroys public confidence. This is not just about the Met. Alongside the Government’s failure in the criminal justice system, where victims are let down and rape prosecutions have fallen to just 1.3%, how can the Minister expect victims of serious sexual assault and rape across the country to come forward? What will he do about that?

I have previously expressed sincere regret for the results in the criminal justice system on rape. I hope the hon. Lady will recognise that some of our actions—not least Operation Soteria, which is showing good signs of making progress in this area—will give people more confidence in getting a result. However, the incidence of reported rape in this country continues to rise as more and more people come forward to report that appalling crime, and we must ensure that they are confident of getting justice through the criminal justice system. That is what the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean), and I are dedicated to.

The IOPC’s report was truly damning, but it is not the only example of misogyny in the Met police that has come to light in the past couple of weeks. The Met has also been made to pay compensation to a woman in Nottingham who was deceived into a relationship with an undercover officer, and it has been made to apologise to my constituent Dr Koshka Duff for misogynistic and derogatory comments made before and after a strip search. Does the Minister agree with the report’s conclusion that the incidents the IOPC investigated are

“not isolated or simply the behaviour of a few ‘bad apples’”?

Will he commit to an independent, public, statutory inquiry into institutional misogyny in the Metropolitan police?

Given the incidents we have seen—I too was appalled by the incident to which the hon. Lady refers—it is hard not to agree with the IOPC conclusions. As I have explained in the past few minutes, several inquiries in this area are ongoing within the Met, and I think it best to wait for them to conclude before deciding on what the next steps may be.