Policing the police

Policing the police

Irish experience illustrates the power of the police to avoid real change and accountability. PAUL DONOVAN reports

The Metropolitan Police is under fire from all sides for the conduct of its officers.

The latest damning indictment comes from the report of Baroness Louise Casey which found it to be institutionally racist, homophobic, corrupt and sexist.

The Met Commissioner Sir Paul Rowley already seems to be digging himself a bigger hole by refusing to admit these problems are institutionalised.

The big question going forward is how to attain change.

The police are very good at damage limitation, managing situations to safeguard the institution, whilst ensuring that very little changes.

Some 20 years have passed, since the Macpherson Inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence found the Met to be institutionally racist. Macpherson made 75 recommendations, yet from Baroness Casey's findings little seems to have changed.

A good example of the resistance of the police to change comes from a look back at the aftermath of the Irish miscarriage of justice cases.

In 1991, the Birmingham Six walked free through the front doors of the Court of Appeal.

Previously, the Guildford Four and Maguire Seven had been similarly exonerated. Judy Ward was later cleared (1992) relating to the M62 coach bombing. More were to follow.

The establishment was in crisis. There was a lack of confidence in the police. Increasingly, juries were not believing what they were being told by police officers. Ring any bells?

Few though believed that when a Royal Commission into the Criminal Justice system was set up following the exoneration of the Birmingham Six that this was the start of the fight back process.

There were some whispering campaigns against those cleared of the bombings.

The term miscarriage of justice was refocused to mean the guilty walking free (though this had always been the case, whilst the innocent were in prison).

The threat of crime was ramped up in the media.

The final result was the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994, which gave more power to the very people supposedly in the dock at the outset, namely the police.

So, the right to silence was removed, stop and search powers were extended and rights like assembly restricted.

A few middle ranking police officers were brought to trial in relation to the miscarriage of justice cases but all collapsed. No senior officers came close to being made accountable.

So the whole thing came full circle.

Whilst the Royal Commission was thorough and did lead to the setting up of the Criminal Cases Review Commission to look at questionable cases, from the legal establishment angle it bought time.

The agenda moved on, to such a degree that the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act could effectively reward the original wrong doers.

This all under the Tory Home Secretary of the time, Michael Howard, who was most remembered for his mantra that prison works.

So what is to stop a similar process occurring regarding the Casey report?

What does seem to be different is how far things have now gone.

Back in the days of the miscarriages of justice, the rogue officers were viewed as a few bad apples in the barrel. Noble cause corruption was a popular term, where the end justified the means. Today, the view is more that the whole barrel is rotten.

There does need to be strong political leadership shown. Thus far London Mayor Sadiq Khan deserves credit for driving the process. He took the controversial action to replace Cressida Dick as Commissioner.

The Home Secretary though also has a crucial role to play, especially given that the problems found by Lady Casey are unlikely to be exclusive to the Met.

Sir Mark Rowley needs to put root and branch reform in place to get the change in culture required. He would do well to note the words of a former reforming Met Commissioner Sir Robert Mark, who said: A good police force is one that catches more crooks than it employs.

There must be questions though as to whether the Met can be reformed from within. Sir Mark has already questioned whether the problems are institutional.

They obviously are, as Baroness Casey found out. Questions need to be asked, like whether the ethos of the police now is so bad that it attracts the wrong type of people, who are then moulded to become misogynistic, racist and homophobic. Or are those tendencies hidden prerequisites for the job?

There have been calls for the break up of the Met - it is too big and unreformable. That maybe the case, what is for sure is that there needs to be drastic action.

The Met are rapidly losing the consent of the people they seek to police. Confidence is at an all time low. Consent and trust needs to be won back. This can only be done with radical reform.

Hopefully, this will be forthcoming but always beware the police's power to turn the tables, time and reputation manage their way out of trouble. The confidence and so permission of the public to be policed needs to be won back. Failure to act decisively now will see little change, with more victims and injustice perpetrated down the road.