In February a YouGov poll found that more than half of Londoners don’t trust their own police service much or at all. Sherlock Holmes need not be summoned to detect reasons for such disquiet.
Over the past few years we’ve learned that our thin blue line has hosted murderers, rapists and low-life of the type that thinks it’s a good laugh to send pictures of murdered women whose bodies they are guarding to their mates. Such incidents have been at the the most chilling end of a spectrum of institutional ignominy. That spectrum is a wide one. It also encompasses too many in the Met who fail to meet the most basic professional standards.
A grim insight into the scale of change needed on that score was provided at the London Assembly’s police and crime committee meeting on Wednesday. The immediate issue was the Met’s disclosure last month that a cabinet in Scotland Yard left locked and undisturbed for years contained a trove of documents relating to the scandal of the unsolved 1987 murder of Daniel Morgan.
How on earth had that happened? Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon (pictured) tried to find out. Questioning Assistant Commissioner Louisa Rolfe, she established a timeline. Rolfe said the documents were found in January and that the locked cabinet in question was on the very floor where the Met’s management board – its top brass – is based.
Sophie Linden, the deputy mayor who heads the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) also took questions at the meeting. She told Pidgeon she didn’t hear from the Met about the cabinet and its contents until 24 April – three months after Rolfe had said the documents were found.
What was going on for all that time? AC Rolfe, who, unsurprisingly, appeared briefed up to her ears, said the Met “undertook a careful assessment of the documents to consider whether any should have been disclosed”.
Some of the mystery cabinet’s contents were eventually handed over to the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel whose damning report, published in June 2021, was at times compiled in the teeth of Met resistance to allowing members access to material they wished to see. Some were belatedly provided to His Majesty’s inspectorate, which, following on from the panel’s findings, concluded in March 2022 that the Met’s “property and exhibits procedures were dire” with “hundred of items not accounted for”.
Pidgeon expressed incredulity. The Morgan panel was set up by the then Home Secretary Theresa May in 2013. The Met moved into its current HQ on Victoria Embankment in November 2016.
Had it not gone through every cupboard and drawer to check what was in them at the time, as would be usual for any re-locating organisation, let alone one the entire criminal justice system depends on? Why hadn’t the locked cabinet been unlocked back then?
And why hadn’t the Met, having finally had a look inside a piece of office furniture seemingly incuriously dumped just down the corridor from where some of UK policing’s biggest decisions are made, alerted MOPAC – whose governance duties include the delivery of efficient and effective Met policing – to its discovery more quickly?
Rolfe said “the significance of these documents would not have been immediately apparent” and that when their “relevance was identified” there was “an effort to give key partners like MOPAC time to consider the gravity of the information”. She accepted that “the long time delay” was “regrettable” and said she appreciated “the impact that might have had on trust”. Linden said the delay worried her and that she did “flag that as an issue”.
Well, good. But the overall impression I took from the meeting, fair or otherwise, was that slow and slapdash remain stubborn characteristics of how the Met goes about too much of its business.
Pidgeon pointed out that only last month the Met owned up to losing the mobile phone of a 14-year-old girl who committed suicide in March 2021. A coroner had intended to consider evidence from the phone as part of the inquiry into the her death. The child’s devastated father said the police had told him information stored on the phone would be key to establishing the circumstances surrounding her taking her own life.
Linden said a promised “deep dive” to see if the handling of property and exhibits has improved has yet to take place, having been folded in to a longer to-do list of recommendations to follow up under the Met’s own Turnaround Plan. That plan pledges itself to “high standards” and “more trust”. Both please, in spades, and soon.
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