Almost five years ago, when Dame Cressida Dick was appointed to her role as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, I asked if she would uphold Peel’s 9 Principles of Policing. The guidelines, which Sir Robert Peel introduced when founding the Met, still apply today – they are the foundation for the Police’s Code of Ethics.
You can read all nine of Peel’s Principles by clicking on the link to the blog post above. They include:
To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.
To use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public co-operation to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order, and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.
At the time I was concerned that Dick would:
- use her considerable powers and the Met’s approximately £3 billion annual budget to arm more officers with guns, Tasers, and spit hoods
- fail to demand that her 55,000 officers apply Peel’s ethical standards when using this “kit”
- defend those who used force on the public.
Dame Cressida had form, as the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes by Metropolitan Police firearms officers showed. She was the commander in charge of the operation that day. The Force was found guilty of health and safety rules and failing in its duty to protect the public. It later paid more than £100,000 compensation to Mr de Menezes’ family.
Met Police Militarisation Effects
Sadly, my fears about the Met’s war-like approach to policing, and disregard of the relevant Peel Principles, were well-founded.
A Home Office report showed that, in the year April 2019 to March 2020:
- 492,000 incidents of force were recorded (so this may be an undercount) by police in the UK
- 158,000 (about 1/3) of all recorded uses of force were by Metropolitan Police officers.
And, reflecting broader issues of racism and misogyny within the Force, Metropolitan police officers:
- were four times more likely to use force against black people compared with the white population
- used taser guns, pepper spray, batons, and spit hoods ‘on pregnant women, or those believed to be expecting, 2,556 times between 2018-2021. This was a disproportionately high amount compared to 15 other forces who responded to the request for data. The rest used such force on 3,818 girls and women during the same period.
Peel Principles Ignored by Dame Cressida Dick
But Dame Cressida Dick did something I never expected: in her time as Met Commissioner, she effectively made Peel’s Nine Principles of Policing optional.
Two of Peel’s other key principles are:
To recognise always that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.
To seek and preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion; but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws…
They help establish the principle of policing by consent: where the power of the police comes from “the common consent of the public, as opposed to the power of the state”.
But, instead of requiring the highest standards of ethics and conduct to maintain public approval and respect, she presided over a toxic culture where:
were recruited and thrived.
Dick led by example. As the Met’s top officer, she shaped its culture and showed officers what they could get away with. She enabled the Met’s “institutional corruption” and was personally censured for obstruction by the independent inquiry set up to review the murder of Daniel Morgan.
But the Commissioner couldn’t do all this on her own. She had friends in high places who were willing to back her publicly. When the Morgan report came out, the Guardian reported that:
- The home secretary (Priti Patel) has full confidence in the commissioner
- (London Mayor) Sadiq Khan also signalled she would not be ousted over the findings of obstruction and cover up
- Dick’s top aide, assistant commissioner Nick Ephgrave, said: “I don’t think the commissioner has any need to consider her position.”
This support meant that, in the aftermath of the Daniel Morgan report, she did not resign. Instead, her contract was renewed for two more years despite loud objections.
Public Help from Senior Met Officers
Throughout the Force, the Met police chief was surrounded by people who supported her defensive outlook and, at times, misplaced loyalty in the Force’s officers. Dick’s supporters regularly spoke up in the media to preserve and protect the Met and, by extension, her role in shaping its culture as Commissioner. They still do. This week Professional Standards lead DAC Bas Javid deflected in response to questions about racism in the Met:
“What I would say is, there are people who have racist views and are racist and they are in policing. But what I won’t do is describe the organisation as a racist organisation.”
(DAC Javid has proven himself a loyal foot soldier who is willing to shill for his boss in the past. Read this blog post to find out why: How Disingenuous Comments by the Police Undermine Public Confidence.)
Metropolitan Police Federation Backing
Dick’s fierce, but often misguided, loyalty to the police officers under her command is well-known. She worked closely with the Metropolitan Police Federation, which represents more than 30,000 police officers in the Met. The loyalty went both ways, calling in to question the judgement of both Dick and Ken Marsh, the Chairman of the Police Federation. In September 2021, when her contract was renewed, Marsh said:
Dame Cressida has the “full support of the rank and file”.
He told the PA news agency her leadership has been “excellent”, while her “ability to communicate with officers of all ranks is quite incredible”.
It should be noted that Marsh’s supportive words were issued after Dick was censured, and the Met was described as institutionally corrupt, in the Daniel Morgan case.
And Chairman Marsh made more tone-deaf comments defending Cressida Dick after she resigned saying that:
we think she was doing a good job in difficult circumstances.
The comments from Ephgrave, Javid, Marsh, and others in the Met highlight the extent to which the high-ups diverged from Peel’s Principles in support of London’s top officer.
Their misplaced loyalty is further exposed when you consider that Dick failed in her core job: fighting crime. Since she took over in 2017:
- crime in London is up by 4%, with 45% fewer cases solved
- the number of teenagers murdered in London hit a record high in 2021.
This, on top of the cultural and institutional failings which occurred under her watch, mean that no one should regret Dame Cressida Dick’s removal, not even her most ardent supporters.
Consequences of Cressida Dick’s Appointment
Dick’s appointment as Commissioner was challenged by many at the time, including the family of Jean Charles de Menezes. In February 2017 they wrote:
“We have serious concerns about such an appointment and the signal it sends to the people of London.”
And, deliberately or not, they referred to Peel’s Nine Principles of Policing when they said:
“We cannot be expected to accept that the most senior police officer in the country, a post that is expected to uphold the highest standards of professionalism, to command public confidence and ultimately be responsible for ensuring that no police officer acts with impunity, be filled by someone that is clearly tainted by her failure to live up to any of those requirements.”
It appears that the excitement about appointing the first woman to hold the role of Commissioner in the Force’s history may have clouded the judgement of Mayor Sadiq Khan and then-Home Secretary Amber Rudd.
Khan had fair warning that Dick was unsuitable for the role in 2017. He had no excuses when he renewed her contract in September 2021.
The Mayor must now deal with the political fall-out, such as the opportunistic intervention from Ken Marsh. That is inconvenient, but nothing compared to what the countless victims of Metropolitan police misconduct have suffered due to Dame Cressida’s failure to fulfil Sir Robert Peel’s Policing Principles.
Kevin Donoghue is the solicitor director of Donoghue Solicitors. He has helped many people bring successful civil actions against the Metropolitan Police for compensation.