Who is, or should be, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner’s boss? A report by the Greater London Authority’s independent monitoring officer has highlighted the long- unresolved ambiguity surrounding the issue of who should police the capital’s police.
The report deals with two complaints made by London Assembly members against Sadiq Khan concerning his role in Dame Cressida Dick’s resignation as Commissioner last spring. The monitoring officer’s task was to evaluate whether these amounted to “serious complaints” under the Elected Local Policing Bodies (Complaints and Conduct) Regulations 2012. If they did they would be referred upwards to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).
The complaints followed the publication of Sir Tom Winsor’s independent review into the circumstances of Dick’s departure, commissioned by the then Home Secretary Priti Patel and published in September. Winsor’s found Khan guilty of “oppressive” and “unreasonable” behaviour towards Dick. Khan responded by labelling Winsor’s report “clearly biased” and “unsupported by evidence”.
The first complaint, though acknowledging the Mayor had the authority to instigate legal actions in Dick’s removal from office, claimed he “breached correct legal guidelines and procedures”, bringing MOPAC into disrepute and undermining confidence in the GLA’s ability to act for and on behalf of Londoners. The second claimed that Khan “wilfully abused his position” by urging Dick to sack certain colleagues. Again, the Mayor was accused of interfering in a way that damaged public trust.
After seeking advice from King’s Counsel, the monitoring officer concluded that both complaints lacked the necessary seriousness for them to be referred to the IOPC, therefore seeming to contradict the Winsor report’s findings. The report is certainly less conclusive and refrains from saying Khan acted wrongly.
That two reports conducted by “independent professionals” appear to disagree with each other over the Mayor’s behaviour – and, by implication, over what powers the Mayor has over the Met – underlines a lack of clarity over who is truly responsible for overseeing the capital’s police service.
Met Commissioners are formally appointed by the Home Secretary, but they must do so with “regard” to the Mayor’s views about the matter. Yet the resignation of a previous Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, in 2008 was famously brought about by the then Mayor Boris Johnson telling him he had lost confidence in him.
This showed that, in practice, Met Commissioners cannot operate without mayoral support. And Patel’s asking Winsor to look at Khan’s actions demonstrates the difficulties that can arise when a Home Secretary and a Mayor differ over whether a Commissioner should go.
The significance of this ambiguity has been made all the more apparent in the wake of Baroness Louise Casey’s damning review into the state of the Met, in which she has told the current Commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley (pictured), to “clean up” the service.
Rowley will have to front a demonstrable shift away from business as usual to regain public confidence and avoid the fate of his predecessor. But the controversy surrounding the resignation of Dick shows it is a struggle to work out which elected politician he is accountable to and will therefore judge his progress. Reform itself might be jeopardised by the uncertainty.
Given that their Mayor is elected by Londoners in part – and, arguably, increasingly – on the basis of their commitment to dealing with crime, would it not be sensible to give Mayors the majority stake in Met Police power? This could remove the current scope for political matters to engulf and complicate the situation when, as has been the case since 2016 and was when Blair resigned, the Home Secretary and Mayor are from rival parties – a tension that seems to only increase the dysfunction at the heart of the Met.
Whatever the solution, improvements in London’s policing will be harder to make amid the current accountability cacophony.
Sam Thornton is a student of London politics and governance at King’s College.