Caroline Pidgeon: Metropolitan Police must face up to claims of institutional corruption

Caroline Pidgeon: Metropolitan Police must face up to claims of institutional corruption

Daniel Morgan was a private detective violently murdered in a car park in south east London in 1987. His killing and the series of subsequent botched police investigations have led to one of the most powerful and damning reports into the Metropolitan Police I have ever read. Its claim that the organisation suffers from “institutional corruption” has ramifications far beyond the Morgan case.

The recent two-year extension to Met Commissioner Cressida Dick’s contract has caused many to reflect on the various crises that have occurred during her tenure. But for me, the Met’s approach to the recommendations of the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel Report will be a fundamental test of her leadership of a service that has seen public confidence fall from 69 per cent in June 2017 to just 54 per cent according to the latest figures, released in March.

We wait to hear whether the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) will investigate the Commissioner’s conduct, given the stark and direct criticism of her in the report. The launch of any investigation alone could prove incredibly damaging for Dick, who has been in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

The Panel has made clear that it would have concluded its work much sooner had the Met co-operated with it fully. The report states:

“There was not insignificant obstruction to the Panel’s work. At times the contact between the Panel and the Metropolitan Police resembled police contact with litigants rather than with a body established by the Home Secretary to enquire into the case.”

The report also includes direct criticism of the Commissioner when she was the senior officer responsible for supporting the work of the Panel back in 2013, including for obstructive actions such as the initial refusal to grant access to a police internal data system called HOLMES and the most sensitive information pertinent to the case. 

The Met has acknowledged that corruption took place in the first investigation into Morgan’s murder, yet no one has seen a clear and full account of it. I asked the Commissioner about this when she appeared in front of the London Assembly’s Police and Crime Committee in July (pictured above). Her response provided more detail than I’ve heard before, but it was not comprehensive.

The Met insisted it needs to read and digest the report fully before issuing a detailed response, yet it rejected the charge of “institutional corruption” out of hand. That feels like an organisation burying its head in the sand. The chair of the Panel, Baroness O’Loan, was very clear with the committee that: 

“There has been dishonesty for the benefit of the reputation of the organisation and that is institutional corruption and the statements made on behalf of the Met have continued to lack candour, even after the publication of our report.”

I have been concerned for some time that the Met continues to frame issues of corruption as historic. Earlier this year. I quizzed Sadiq Khan over levels of officer misconduct and corruption in the Met and asked what action is being taken to improve vetting and training, alongside tackling serious and organised misconduct.

I have also regularly pushed the Mayor over the need for a requirement for Met officers to declare membership of organisations like the freemasons when they join the service, something the Panel also recommended and which is desperately needed.

The concerns raised by the Panel also link heavily with those of Operation Tiberius, an internal investigation into Met corruption that took place in the 2000s. It identified eight crime networks involved in drug trafficking, extortion and money laundering, and 19 former and 42 then-serving officers were investigated for alleged corruption. It also revealed that information relating to at least five unsolved gangland murders had been leaked to suspects by corrupt officers, many of whom remained in senior posts for years. 

The Met is filled with dedicated officers, but to dismiss key findings of the Morgan inquiry out of hand undermines their good work. The Commissioner focuses on the fact that all police services face instances of corruption, but in doing that she is failing to engage with the institutional corruption charge. I am deeply worried that the Met’s senior leadership’s defensive attitude to the report – and to other recent criticism – does the opposite of protecting the Met.

The British tradition of policing by consent is at the heart of this matter. Unless the Met can acknowledge and tackle this issue seriously, then ultimately its legitimacy is under threat. The next few months will be crucial, and with the Commissioner’s contract now running to 2024, I hope she will make the urgent change of approach needed to tackle institutional corruption head on. I will be scrutinising the Met’s response every step of the way.

Caroline Pidgeon is a Liberal Democrat London Assembly Member and former mayoral candidate. She is pictured above, right. Follow Caroline on Twitter

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