The Met is Built to Behave Like This


Baroness Casey finding the Met police to be institutionally racist, misogynistic and homophobic is yet another finding against the police who have suffered the most devastating two years. In 2021, the Met were also found ‘institutionally corrupt’ in the Daniel Morgan Inquiry. Last year, eight police forces went into special measures.

Braverman and her predecessor Home Secretary, Patel, have responded to such reports by accepting the police need to change, but both have simultaneously given the police vast discretionary powers to use against protesters. Patel brought in laws that allow the police to stop noisy protests, limit the length of a protest, and stop protests that causes serious annoyance. Braverman is going yet further introducing protest banning orders. Given Casey’s findings, it's not difficult to see who would more likely be impacted by such wide-spread discretion.

Casey’s welcome findings are somewhat ironic, given she previously was the chief promoter of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders [ASBOs]. These orders could be sought against anyone causing alarm or distress. This led to police targeting all sorts of vulnerable groups whom she now, years later, states are institutionally prejudiced.

The question remains, will another report making such findings lead to any change? Given the reaction of the recent Commissioners, one would think not. Dame Cressida Dick’s failure to get a grip of the problems led to a string of scandals and her resignation. She outright refused to accept the police were institutionally racist. The current Commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, accepts that within the institution of the Met these behaviours occur, but does not believe they are institutional. He believes, instead, that the ‘institutional’ framing is politicised. Despite the wealth of evidence, the current home secretary supports Rowley refusal to accept the police are institutionally racist.

Such denial of the extent of institutionalised wrongs enabled Commissioners Dick (now Dame) and Stephenson (now Sir) to leave the issues unresolved, despite the evidence presented. Following Stephenson, Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe (now Lord) said he wouldn't argue with anyone who said it was, but that comment still skirts round the edges of inaction. As this is one of a number of reports to call out institutional behaviour unbecoming of a public servant, Rowley should not be let off the hook so lightly.

For at least a quarter of a century the Met has been handed time and again its shameful racism badge. Casey’s findings suggest that, following previous reports, the Met has managed to avoid both accountability and change. This has led to the continued growth of appalling behaviour and perceived impunity. The result being, two more damning police medals for the Met awarded by Casey, making it four: institutionally misogynistic, homophobic, corrupt, and racist.

Casey describes the Met as defensive, resistant to change, and unwilling to engage with communities – the latter point was raised by Lord Scarman in his report published after the Brixton riots 40 years ago. In 1981, the then home secretary, William Whitelaw, publicly supported Scarman’s recommendation for more community policing. What we reveal in Charged: How the Police Try to Suppress Protest is that Whitelaw privately did the complete opposite. His department created and implemented a police manual with paramilitary tactics to deal with public order.

The manual gave instructions for how the police could ‘incapacitate’ protesters with truncheons just for being present. The 500 page document was the preserve of Chief Police Officers. It was issued without parliamentary scrutiny – despite being a fundamental change in policing of protest. A new tactic from the manual, short shields and truncheons, were first used during the 1984/5 miners’ strike at Orgreave on 18 June 1984 where TV newsreels show miners were indeed ‘incapacitated’. An inquiry into the violent policing at Orgreave has repeatedly been denied. In 2016, Home Secretary Amber Rudd reportedly decided that such an inquiry would tarnish the memory of Thatcher. This, in itself, appears to confirm violent police action is condoned even encouraged by government.

The Casey report was commissioned in the wake of Sarah Everard’s murder and the violent policing of a protest in her memory. Casey covers the protest event stating that this illustrates ‘how far culture in the Met had become removed from the founding principles of policing by consent.’ Where ‘concerns about use of force which is judged to be excessive or without grounds’ are raised ‘the focus [of the Met] is on legality and whether it was within the rule and regulations’. Yet it appears Casey has not been seen to criticise vastly extended discretionary powers of the police around protest. She does suggest that if bad police behaviour is not quashed then it is allowed to fester and grow. Consider, then, how emboldened the police will continue to be around protest when successive governments have failed to declare the home office's role in bringing about the secret manual. This alone should warrant an inquiry into the violent policing at Orgreave.

While the Casey report is welcome and addresses much, it does fail to address a fifth category of institutional behaviour also linked to events that followed Sarah Everard’s murder. The evidence already shows police forces are institutionally against protesters too and to ensure rights are protected, all of this also needs addressing.

Matt Foot Morag Livingstone

Charged: How the Police Try to Suppress Protest (Verso, 2022)