A question in the air about Sadiq Khan’s City Hall speech this morning, in which he set out how he sees the task before the next Metropolitan Police commissioner, concerned who exactly it was aimed at.
The question was a good one. It was reported back in March that the field has been narrowed to two candidates: Mark Rowley, a former acting deputy Met commissioner and national counter terrorism lead, and current Met assistant commissioner Nick Ephgrave. These were the picks of the Home Office, which runs the show for appointing “Britain’s top cop” and is required only to “have regard to” the views of whoever is London’s Mayor.
But although Khan is in that sense a secondary figure in the appointment process, he told reporters there has been City Hall involvement in the selection from the start, and his influence as the capital’s police and crime commissioner over whoever gets the job will be considerable. Along with statutory powers to set the Met’s priorities and budget, London Mayors have the additional unwritten one of being able to effectively force a commissioner out if they thinks he or she is doing a bad job.
That’s why Cressida Dick is no longer boss of Scotland Yard, and it is also why Ian Blair stepped down in 2008 after the then Mayor, Boris Johnson, pulled the rug from beneath him – a mayoral precedent set by her current boss that Home Secretary Priti Patel appeared to have forgotten when attacking Khan for doing the same to Dick.
It would be wrong, however, to interpret Khan’s speech as merely an elaborate coded threat. That would be to devalue an accomplished 30-minute articulation of the crucial link between public confidence in the Metropolitan Police Service and the ability of its competent and diligent officers do their jobs with maximum effectiveness.
Khan didn’t shy away from historical comparisons with the present day, beginning his address by reminding his audience about the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence nearly 30 years ago and what the failures of the Met’s investigation of it revealed – it was from that negligent performance that the term “institutional racism” arose. “Significant and positive steps” had been taken to address this since, Khan said, but he maintained that “further reform on a far-reaching scale is now urgently needed” and described his speech as “one of the most important I will give as Mayor”.
He stressed, with examples, that “there are tens of thousands of incredibly brave and decent police officers in the Met, dedicated public servants who go above and beyond every day” and also underlined, contrary to the default line of others, that “talking about the need for urgent police reform is not being anti-police – far from it. In fact, it is the exact opposite. It is about believing the police can be excellent and about facing up to some hard truths, so that we can be sure we have the best, the most effective and most professional police force for Londoners”.
Reprising the recent series of “appalling scandals” that have damaged faith in the police – the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard and its aftermath, the sharing of pictures of the dead bodies of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, the failures of the investigation of Stephen Port, the “shameful” treatment of “Child Q” , and the “shocking” disclosures of Operation Hotton – Khan cited a “damaging culture” in need of eradication. “Countless Londoners,” he said have been deeply affected by these revelations and events.
He described himself as left “sick to my stomach” by them and reminded of “the bad old days” of his London childhood, when police officers created fear of being unfairly criminalised rather than providing protection. This kind of “breakdown of trust makes it harder to tackle crime,” he said, as “it prevents the victims and the witnesses of violence from coming forward” and weakens public co-operation in general. “Trust is everything,” he emphasised.
Addressing these issues requires “root and branch” and “systemic” reform, Khan continued. “But before any of this, Londoners need to hear the leadership of the Met publicly acknowledge the scale and depth of the problems – something which will be a crucial first step for the next commissioner to start rebuilding trust and credibility with our communities”. It was a message that will not go unheard by whoever the next Met commissioner is.
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