On 1 December 2022, the House of Lords is scheduled to debate the following question for short debate:

Lord Lexden (Conservative) to ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the commitments made by the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police on 18 November to tackle crime and misconduct within the Metropolitan Police.

1. What concerns have been raised about the conduct of officers in the Metropolitan Police Service?

In recent years, there has been a series of highly publicised controversies involving serving officers in the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS). This includes, but is not limited to, the following:

However, these controversies are not exclusive to the MPS. Police officers from other forces, such as Gwent Police in Wales, have also been subject to recent allegations of misconduct.

2. What leadership changes have taken place?

The commissioner of the MPS Cressida Dick resigned in February 2022, citing a lack of confidence in her from the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan. Responding to the resignation in the Guardian, Mr Khan said that it had “become crystal clear” that there were “deep cultural issues within the MPS”. He also stated that new leadership was the “only way” to get the level of change that was urgently required.

However, several commentators argued at the time that Ms Dick’s resignation would not resolve the MPS’s problems. In an article in the Conversation in February 2022, professor of policing and security at the University of South Wales Colin Rogers said that misconduct in the MPS had “preceded Cressida Dick, and will long outlast her”. Similarly, speaking to Sky News, a former HM inspector of constabulary Zoe Billingham said that there was a “real culture issue” in the MPS that could not be resolved overnight, and that whoever replaced Ms Dick would have “precisely the same problems” that she had contended with.

In March 2022, Home Secretary Suella Braverman appointed former chief inspector of constabulary Sir Thomas Winsor to create a commission to establish and assess the facts, the timeline of events and circumstances which resulted in Ms Dick’s resignation. In September 2022, the commission published its findings. The commission concluded that Sadiq Khan did not follow “due process” when he withdrew his support for Ms Dick. Additionally, the commission reported that Ms Dick had “felt intimidated” prior to resigning. Responding to the review, Sadiq Khan stated that it was “clearly biased” and “ignores the facts”.

Ms Dick’s successor Sir Mark Rowley was appointed commissioner in July 2022. He was formerly assistant commissioner for specialist crime and operations of the MPS from 2011 to 2014 and the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for counterterrorism from 2014 to 2018. He had left policing in 2018 before being appointed to the role of MPS commissioner.

3. What commitments have been made for tackling the issues affecting the Metropolitan Police Service?

Since becoming commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley has made several commitments focusing on improving recruitment, conduct and discipline in the force. Additionally, the government and other policing bodies have also committed to improving processes in these areas. Some of these commitments followed several reviews.

3.1 November 2022 commitments made by Sir Mark Rowley

In an interview with the Times in November 2022, Sir Mark Rowley stated that his key priorities were addressing misconduct, misogyny and violence in the MPS. As part of this, he said that he planned retrospective investigations into officers who had previously attracted serial complaints but escaped without proper sanction:

We are looking at data and intelligence about officers and staff that might give us new opportunities on that same cohort of people. And the resetting of standards is going to ratchet up our response.

Additionally, the Times reported that Sir Mark said that his “hands are tied under the present system”, whereby most gross misconduct hearings are independently chaired by legal representatives. He told the newspaper that he had therefore asked Suella Braverman to change how officers accused of serious misconduct were dealt with.

Sir Mark also stated that he wanted the government to change police regulations to overcome the “heavily bureaucratic” process to remove underperforming police officers. He told the Times that he believed it would be controversial, but that it was essential to do so. The article noted that 3,500 police officers were currently not fully deployed: 500 officers were either suspended or on limited duties because they were under investigation for serious misconduct, and the remaining 3,000 were either poor performers or had long-term health issues.

3.2 Inquiry into the issues raised by the conviction of Wayne Couzens

Following the murder of Sarah Everard in October 2021, then Home Secretary Priti Patel launched a two-part inquiry to investigate the issues and complaints raised by the conviction of Wayne Couzens. The inquiry would be chaired by former Lord Advocate of Scotland Lady Elish Angiolini.

The first part of the inquiry would examine Mr Couzen’s previous behaviour and establish a definitive account of his conduct leading to his conviction. The second part of the inquiry would look at wider issues across policing in England and Wales, including vetting practices, professional standards and discipline, and workplace behaviour.

In June 2022, Lady Elish wrote to Priti Patel to advise that she would be prevented from finalising and submitting her report until the ongoing proceedings against Wayne Couzens had concluded. Lady Elish also suggested that preparations for the second part of the inquiry should commence before her report was published. Responding in July 2022, Ms Patel agreed that the second part of the inquiry should proceed “as soon as practically possible”.

3.3 Review of vetting, misconduct and misogyny across policing in England and Wales

Alongside the inquiry into the misconduct of Wayne Couzens, Ms Patel also announced that she had commissioned His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) to inspect the vetting and counter-corruption arrangements in policing across England and Wales. This included assessing forces’ abilities to detect and deal with misogynistic and predatory behaviour by police officers and staff.

In November 2022, HMICFRS published its findings. The inspectorate reported that an examination of police misconduct-related matters in the years before Ms Everard’s murder pointed to “some systemic failings, missed opportunities and a generally inadequate approach to the setting and maintenance of standards in the police service”. HMICFRS also reported that:

  • An examination of 725 vetting files of applicants that had received clearance in the recruitment process found 131 files where the decision to grant clearance was “questionable at best”. Within these cases, the HMICFRS found officers and staff with criminal records, or who were suspected to have committed crimes (including “some serious crimes”). Some also had substantial undischarged debt or family members linked to organised crime. In addition, it found that some officers and staff had given false information to the vetting unit.
  • In an online survey of officers and staff, which received over 11,000 responses, an “alarming number” of female officers and staff had alleged “appalling behaviour” by male colleagues. This included allegations of serious sexual assault and sexual harassment. HMICFRS stated that “far too many women had, at some stage of their career, experienced unwanted sexual behaviour towards them”.

To tackle these issues, HMICFRS made 43 recommendations, which it said was an “unusually high number” for one of its reports. These included:

  • introducing more thorough pre-employment checks
  • improving the quality and consistency of vetting decision-making, and improving the recording of the rationale for some decisions
  • extending the scope of the law relating to police complaint and misconduct procedures

Three of the recommendations were for the Home Office. For example, they called on the Home Office to work with both the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for complaints and misconduct and the IOPC by October 2023 to ensure that police officers who make criminal allegations against other members of their own force are afforded rights similar to those held by members of the public who make criminal allegations.

Responding to the HMICFRS findings on 3 November 2022, the minister of state at the Home Office Chris Philp said that the report “makes for deeply troubling reading” and that the Home Office would “most certainly” be implementing the three recommendations. Mr Philp also stated that:

The inspectorate concluded that, although the culture has improved in recent years, misogyny, sexism and the predatory behaviour towards female officers and staff members “still exists” and is too high in many forces. That is shameful and must act as a wake-up call. That sort of disgraceful conduct undermines the work of the thousands—the vast majority—of decent, hard-working police officers who perform their duties with the utmost professionalism. More damagingly, it undermines public trust. This matters a great deal to all of us, which is why my right hon. and learned friend the home secretary has made it clear that things must change.

Similarly, chair of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners Marc Jones stated that the report presented a “deeply concerning picture”. He said that police and crime commissioners were committed to holding chief constables to account and would see that “appropriate steps” were in place to “embed all 43 recommendations”.

3.4 Casey review into the Metropolitan Police’s culture and standards of behaviour

Following the sentencing of Wayne Couzens, the Metropolitan Police announced in October 2021 measures it was taking in response to issues raised following the murder of Sarah Everard. This included:

  • the appointment of Baroness Casey of Blackstock (Crossbench) to conduct a review of the Metropolitan Police’s culture and standards to “rebuild public trust”
  • publishing a new action plan for tackling violence against women and girls
  • an “urgent review” of all ongoing investigations of sexual and domestic abuse allegations against MPS police officers and staff

Baroness Casey’s review began in February 2022. It had two overarching aims:

  • find out whether the MPS’s leadership, recruitment, vetting, training, culture and communications supported the standards the public should expect
  • recommend how high standards could be routinely met, and how high levels of public trust in the MPS could be restored and maintained

On 17 October 2022, Baroness Casey published her interim findings on the internal conduct of the MPS. The findings revealed that:

  • The MPS took too long to resolve misconduct cases. On average, the MPS took 400 days to finalise misconduct allegations from start to finish.
  • Officers and staff did not believe that action would be taken when concerns around conduct were raised. Baroness Casey’s report found that 55–60% of allegations made by MPS officers, staff, or their family received a “no case to answer” or “unsubstantiated” decision.
  • Allegations relating to sexual misconduct and other discriminatory behaviours were less likely than other misconduct allegations to result in a ‘case to answer’ decision. A ‘case to answer’ decision means that there is sufficient evidence upon which a “reasonable misconduct hearing” could, on the balance of probabilities, make a finding of misconduct or gross misconduct. The findings revealed that ‘case to answer’ decisions were given to 20% of allegations categorised as breaching rules around equality and diversity and 29% of allegations involving sexual misconduct, compared with 33% of all finalised allegations. These statistics apply to allegations considered since April 2013.
  • The misconduct process did not find and discipline officers with repeated or patterns of unacceptable behaviour. Between 2013 and 2022, 20% of officers and staff in the misconduct system had been involved in two or more cases, but the data showed that less than 1% of those officers had been dismissed.

Responding to the interim report, Sir Mark Rowley said he was “appalled” at the findings and that he accepted the conclusions in full. He also stated that the MPS was investing “significant resource” in a new Anti-Corruption and Abuse Command, led by a commander and detective chief superintendent, which would “bring together capabilities in intelligence, proactive investigation and prevention”.

Additionally, Sir Mark said that as the MPS did not have the “final say” when dismissing those found guilty of gross misconduct (most misconduct hearings are led by independent chairs); he had written to the home secretary asking for her “urgent support” in making changes to police regulations so that the MPS had the power to make such decisions.

Also responding to Baroness Casey’s interim report, Suella Braverman stated that the situation “cannot continue” and that the “culture and standards in the police must improve”. Ms Braverman said that it was “absolutely vital” that police acted to “restore trust, return to common-sense policing and treat the public and victims with the respect they deserve”. She welcomed the MPS’s “commitment to tackling the issues raised” in Baroness Casey’s review.

3.5 Home Office review into police dismissals

Ms Braverman also announced in October 2022 that the Home Office would be launching a review of police dismissals to ensure that the system was more effective in removing officers who were “not fit to serve the public”. The press release stated that the review was likely to consider:

  • the effectiveness of the existing system to dismiss those who fall seriously short of the standards expected by policing and the public
  • the impact of the introduction of changes to misconduct panels, including legally qualified chairs
  • whether forces were making use of their powers to discharge officers during their probationary period

The review would also assess whether the regulatory framework for the police disciplinary system should be changed.

4. Read more

4.1 Parliamentary briefings

4.2 Parliamentary debates

4.3 Parliamentary questions

4.4 Press articles and commentary

Cover image by John Cameron on Unsplash.