Nearly 25 years after the Macpherson Inquiry found the Metropolitan Police to be institutionally racist, the report by Baroness Louise Casey published on March 21st is, if anything, even more shocking. Both reports were commissioned following a murder. Macpherson focused on the way the investigation into the racist murder of the Black teenager, Stephen Lawrence, had been conducted. That report found that the investigation had been “marred by a combination of professional incompetence, institutional racism, and a failure of leadership.” Louise Casey’s review, commissioned in the wake of Sarah Everard’s murder, has laid bare in more than 300 pages a series of grave concerns about the Metropolitan Police’s culture and standards. It appears that, despite Macpherson’s 70 recommendations, including achieving a police workforce that is representative of the population by 2030 and maintaining an institutional focus on structural imbalances that lead to unequal outcomes for individuals of different ethnicities, very little has changed.
Louise Casey’s review, which she described as “rigorous, stark and unsparing” found that Britain’s largest police force is institutionally racist, misogynistic, and homophobic.
The review found widespread bullying, with 22% of staff and officers with protected characteristics experiencing bullying, and 33% of those with a long-standing illness, disability or infirmity.
There is “deep-seated homophobia within the Met”; almost one in five lesbian, gay and bisexual Met employees have personally experienced homophobia and 30% of LGBTQ+ employees said they had been bullied.
Female officers and staff “routinely face sexism and misogyny”. The Met has “not protected its female employees or members of the public from police perpetrators of domestic abuse, nor those who abuse their position for sexual purposes”. Despite the Met saying violence against women and girls is a priority, it has been treated differently from “serious violence”.
There are people in the Met with racist attitudes, and Black, Asian and ethnic minority officers and staff are more likely to experience racism, discrimination, and bullying at their hands. “Discrimination is often ignored, and complaints are likely to be turned against Black, Asian and ethnic minority officers,” the report said.
The report echoes some of the findings of the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) which also uncovered “disgraceful misogyny, discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment” within the Met in its 2022 review.
The Centre for Women’s Justice has responded by saying that these findings echo their own research. “In addition to inadequate disciplinary processes and the failure to deal with multiple allegations, we note that in many cases following a criminal investigation where no further action is taken, there are frequently very inadequate misconduct investigations if one is conducted at all. When there is a criminal investigation of an officer, the matter should go straight to Professional Standards Department (PSD) for internal misconduct proceedings but often it does not.”
A toxic culture is usually a failure of leadership. That is the point made by Diane Abbott in her tweet where she said “Tinkering at the edges and internal reform has not worked in all that time. The Met has deteriorated even further because it has not faced reality. Even now the Met Commissioner refuses to accept the ‘institutional’ verdict. Both he and the Met should go.”
She is right. Tens of thousands of pounds have been spent on initiatives and training around diversity and culture, since Stephen Lawrence’s racist murder, but nothing much has changed.
The situation is made far worse by the change in the way police officers operate. Originally they represented local communities, but now the gap between communities and the police, often in cars rather than on foot, has grown. This has meant that the police increasingly see the public as the ‘other’, set against a force that feels continually under siege.
So, what is to be done? We know that the Met is not alone. Last year Incidents of misogyny, racism and bullying were exposed by an independent report, the Independent Culture Review, on the culture at the London Fire Brigade. In one incident logged in the report, a Black firefighter had a noose put over his locker, and in another a Muslim colleague had bacon and sausages stuffed in his pockets and a terrorist hotline sign posted on his locker.
Nazir Afzal, a former chief prosecutor who carried out the review, called for a national inquiry into other public bodies, saying he has been approached by several people who work for them including the BBC and the NHS. He said the problem was potentially widespread across dozens of other public institutions.
So, while the Met needs to be held accountable for the dangerous and toxic culture within that organisation, it also has to be recognised that there is something deeply sinister taking place within our wider society reflected in the growing acceptance of toxic male attitudes, often excused as “banter.” The expression “a fish rots from the head down” is an apt description of wider societal failures that are impacting most large organisations today.