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Britain's Largest Police Force Lets Predators Flourish

Britain's Largest Police Force Lets Predators Flourish
Britain's Largest Police Force Lets Predators Flourish

A review of London's Metropolitan Police found that domestic abuse and sexual violence cases are not taken seriously, and that many officers are perpetrators themselves.

(CNN) — London's Metropolitan Police has allowed predatory behavior to flourish within its force and failed to adequately protect members of the public from abuse, as well as its own female staff, according to a review that accused the organization of perpetuating a misogynistic, sexist, racist, and homophobic internal culture.

"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," read the 363-page report by Louise Casey, published on Tuesday.

"Despite the Met saying violence against women and girls is a priority, it has been treated differently from 'serious violence.' In practice this has meant it has not been taken as seriously in terms of resourcing and prioritization."

Police Commissioner Mark Rowley said in a video statement on Tuesday that the force "fully accepts" the review's findings and intends to act on them.

"I'm sorry we've let you all down, and we will fix this," he vowed, citing a "turnaround" plan to address systemic issues within the force.

Britain's largest police force has reeled from a series of scandals in recent years. It came under intense scrutiny after Wayne Couzens, a serving Metropolitan Police officer, was convicted of the kidnapping, rape, and murder of Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old London woman in March 2021. The killing sparked a national conversation about the stark issues with policing.

One day after Couzens was sentenced that year, another serving officer, David Carrick, was arrested, accused of rape. He had joined the ranks of Britain's worst serial sex offenders — later pleading guilty to raping multiple women over a period of almost two decades, again reigniting calls for urgent reform.

Grappling with a growing crisis of trust, the Metropolitan Police then appointed Casey, a member of Britain's House of Lords who has worked for years on social welfare, to lead an independent inquiry into its institutional culture and standards of behavior.

Her review began in February 2022. It paints a damning picture both of how seriously violence against women and girls is taken, and how crimes against them are investigated. "Instead of access to fast-track forensic services, officers have to contend with over-stuffed, dilapidated or broken fridges and freezers containing evidence including the rape kits of victims, and endure long waits for test results," the review said, citing one example when in a heatwave a freezer broke down, causing all evidence to be destroyed.

Casey called the report "rigorous, stark, and unsparing" in the foreword, and called on the Metropolitan Police to reform itself. But she added that she was unconvinced that the force had fully accepted that the profession can attract predators and bullies, who want to use their power to harm and discriminate, nor that it understood the gravity of the situation it faced.

"If a plane fell out of the sky tomorrow, a whole industry would stop and ask itself why ... Instead the Met preferred to pretend that their own perpetrators of unconscionable crimes were just 'bad apples,'" she said.

Many of the issues raised in the review are not new. That the Metropolitan Police is institutionally racist was a conclusion also reached in 1999 by William Macpherson in his inquiry into the racist murder of British teenager Stephen Lawrence and the failures in how the force investigated his death. The force is still largely white (82 percent) and male (71 percent), unrepresentative of the diverse city they police, the report found.

The review also revealed a culture of bullying and discrimination was "baked into the system," with 22 percent of officers saying they had personally been bullied, leaving frontline officers demoralized and feeling let down by their leaders.

Casey revealed that one Muslim officer had bacon stuffed in his boots inside his locker, a Sikh officer had his beard cut and another had his turban put into a shoe box. The report described a culture where speaking up was not welcome — minority ethnic officers that did learned the hard way, with harsh consequences for themselves and their careers.

Women in and out of the force interviewed for the report detailed a litany of sexual abuse and harassment by police officers. One female junior officer described having been repeatedly assaulted at work and on patrol by a more senior colleague, who she said forced her to sit on his lap, touch and undress her, while deliberately bruising her arms and on one occasion masturbating in front of her. She reported the abuse, but the case was dismissed. "It would have probably been better to suffer in silence, but I couldn't do that. He got away with everything, I was made to look like the liar," she said.

Another woman, a civilian, who said she was in a controlling and coercive relationship with a male police officer for several years, reported his abuse to the local police. A year later, she was informed by the same police force that her ex-partner had made the same allegations against her. No decision was made in the case, and he continues to serve in the Metropolitan Police, according to the report. "I find it terrifying and shocking, how a Metropolitan police officer can continue to help those in need and yet be an abuser himself," she said.

Far too many Londoners have lost faith in the force to protect them, with public confidence dropping below 50% even before the findings of the report were released.

"It is not our job as the public to keep ourselves safe from the police. It is the police's job to keep us safe as the public," Casey said in the foreword, pointing out that Carrick was not caught after action taken by the Metropolitan Police, but only after one of his victims came forward and reported him to the Hertfordshire Police — spurred to speak out by a statement made by Everard's mother.

When asked by Britain's PA news agency whether there could be more officers like Couzens and Carrick in the force, she said: "I cannot sufficiently assure you that that is not the case."

A CNN investigation published in March revealed how police failures may have prevented Carrick, who served in one of Britain's most elite armed police units for years, from being stopped sooner. After Carrick pleaded guilty to a total of 71 sexual offences, the Metropolitan Police admitted there were nine "missed opportunities" when he had previously come to its and other forces' attention, although he was never charged with a criminal offense.

Those nine "opportunities" spanned decades. Between 2000 and 2021, Carrick was accused of multiple crimes including burglary, harassment, assault, and rape. CNN spoke to more than a dozen police officers from multiple forces in England and examined the force's own guidelines on handling misconduct, to identify how Carrick's abuse could have been prevented.

An investigation into the nine incidents has found at least two occasions, in 2019 and 2021, when the Metropolitan Police did not follow those guidelines, leaving Carrick's violent and degrading treatment of women to go unchecked, and him free to meet further victims. CNN reached out to the Metropolitan Police for the investigation and were referred to their existing statements on Carrick. They said they would not be commenting further while there are government reviews ongoing into the handling of the case.

In January, after Carrick admitted to the abuses, sending shockwaves through the country, Rowley, the police commissioner, vowed to root out the forces' problems. "We are going to turn all those stones over, we're going to come to the right conclusions and we'll be ruthless about rooting out those who corrupt our integrity. You have my absolute assurance on that," he said in an interview with UK media.

Reviewing the Metropolitan Police's internal misconduct system was among the chief priorities for Casey. Last October, she wrote to Rowley with some of her initial views on the problems she had detected within the force's misconduct system, among them: cases were taking too long to resolve, allegations were more likely to be dismissed than acted on, the burden of raising concerns was prohibitive, the threshold for "gross misconduct" too great and a racial disparity reflected across the system.

Those early findings were echoed in Tuesday's report, which said that "recruitment and vetting systems are poor and fail to guard against those who seek power in order to abuse it" and that they "do not effectively root out bad officers."

"In the absence of vigilance towards those who intend to abuse the office of constable, predatory and unacceptable behavior has been allowed to flourish," the report added, calling for a root to branch overhaul of the system. "There are too many places for people to hide. The integrity of the organization remains vulnerable to threat."

Casey said years of financial austerity had posed a significant challenge to the Metropolitan Police, depriving it of around £700 million ($858 million), but that cuts had disproportionately impacted local policing, deprioritizing women and children, and putting them at greater risk.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said in a statement that he was deeply concerned by the report's findings: "The evidence is damning. Baroness Casey has found institutional racism, misogyny, and homophobia, which I accept. She has described the Met as defensive, resistant to change, and unwilling to engage with communities."

"This review simply must be a turning point and I expect all the recommendations to be implemented quickly and in full," he added.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told the BBC on Tuesday that urgent changes are needed in the force to regain people's trust. "Ultimately, I want both my daughters to grow up in a society which not only do they feel trust in the police, that is just fundamentally safe," he said.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman also reacted to the review, saying, "It is clear that there have been serious failures of culture and leadership in the Metropolitan Police — which is why the Commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, has been taking action to restore confidence in policing in London."

"There is much more to do and the task of rooting out unfit officers means that further unacceptable cases will come to light," she said.

But Braverman also noted that there are many officers in the force who perform their duties with the "utmost professionalism" who had been "let down" by the behavior of others.

The report calls for a "complete overhaul" of the force, and made 16 recommendations that outline a path toward creating "a radically improved new London Metropolitan Police Service."

The recommendations center around reforming the misconduct system, changing recruitment and vetting standards, establishing specialist teams to deal with rape and serious sexual offenses, adopting more victim-centered approaches, restoring public confidence, and rebuilding consent, particularly among women and Black communities.

If these steps are not taken and sufficient progress not made, more radical, structural options could be considered, such as breaking up the force, Casey said.

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