Asia

Sadiq Khan: I recall the bad old days of the Metropolitan police. Never again

Advertisement

We have a longstanding tradition in this country of policing by consent. At the heart of this approach is the recognition that, for policing to be effective, public approval, respect and confidence in the service is paramount. When this trust is eroded, our model of policing, and therefore public safety, is put at risk.

This was at the forefront of my mind when I read the shocking Operation Hotton report by the Independent Office for Police Conduct, which exposed sickening overt evidence of racism, sexism, homophobia, bullying, discrimination and misogyny among police officers serving at Charing Cross station. Nine of these police officers are still serving with two promoted. Damningly, it concluded that these issues were not isolated or historic.

Reading this report made me disgusted and extremely angry. It reminded me of the bad old days of the Met from my childhood. Growing up in the 1970s and 80s on a council estate in south London, it was commonplace to hear stories of racist, misogynistic and abusive conduct by police officers.

Trust in the police was at rock bottom in some communities and one of the things I remember being told as a teenager by my dad was: “Don’t make eye contact with the police, don’t give them an excuse”. My brothers and I would routinely cross the road when we saw officers on the beat, simply due to the fear of being unjustly targeted.

I’ve seen and felt the damage that this kind of breakdown in trust can cause. It makes it harder to tackle crime, with victims failing to report crime and witnesses discouraged from coming forward when they see criminal activity. It stops many women reporting rape and sexual harassment. And it leads to community groups becoming less likely to work with the police when they are worried about young people getting involved in gangs.

During my time as mayor, crime has fallen in the capital. We have managed to buck the national trend, with burglary, gun crime and knife crime involving under 25s all down by around a quarter since 2016. But we still have a long way to go and – if we are to continue making progress – then ensuring communities across London have trust and confidence in the police is going to be critical.

This is particularly the case with tackling the senseless knife crime that results in the murder of young Londoners, many just teenagers. Thirty teenagers were killed in the capital last year – every one of them a shocking tragedy. We know the way to reduce this kind of terrible violence is not just through tough enforcement, but by the police working in partnership with families, local communities, charities and others to prevent children from being sucked into gangs and violence in the first place.

The truth is that communities will only act as the eyes and ears of the police, and be active partners in working to prevent crime, if the necessary trust is established.

I’ve seen and felt the damage that this kind of breakdown in trust can cause

That’s one of the main reasons why I’m deeply concerned by how public trust and confidence in London’s police service has been shattered so badly – not just by the Hotton report, but by a succession of serious incidents. These include: the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard by a serving police officer; the policing of a peaceful vigil; two officers caught sharing pictures of the murdered sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman; and failings by the Met Police which contributed to the deaths of the final three victims of Stephen Port, with accusations that homophobia within the police impeded the investigation.

It has become crystal clear that there are deep cultural issues within the Met. It’s my job as Mayor to support the police and also to hold the police to account on behalf of Londoners, so it was my duty to act decisively as soon as I concluded that the only way we were going to start seeing the level of change urgently required was with new leadership right at the top of the Met. Londoners need to hear their police service publicly acknowledge the widespread nature of the problem, which is the most important step in starting to rebuild credibility with Londoners, crucial to public safety.

I’d like to thank Dame Cressida Dick again for her years of dedicated service and her role in helping to reduce crime in London over recent years. I will now work closely with the home secretary as we select a new commissioner. And as we start this important process, I make this commitment to Londoners – I will not support the appointment of a new Commissioner unless they can clearly demonstrate that they understand the scale of the cultural problems within the Met and the urgency with which they must be addressed. In short, they need to get it, and they need to have a proper and robust plan to deal with it.

I’m optimistic that we can meet the challenges ahead. There are thousands of decent, dedicated and brave police officers in London who are doing an incredible job. Who understand the crucial link between trust, confidence and public safety. I believe in the Met, and I know it contains many brilliant police officers who share my aspirations for policing in London, and who are keen to play their full part in raising standards, adhering to the values Londoners expect and ensuring the bond with the communities they serve is restored and strengthened.