Mealy-mouthed senior police officers
It’s terrible to watch senior officers of the Metropolitan Police, right up to the level of the Commissioner, appear on television or be interviewed on the radio, talking about anything to do with actual police work. The media treat these senior police officers as if they have the knowledge and experience of the essential duties of the police, like catching criminals, but their mealy-mouthed language and the way they present themselves, presumably even with media training, does a terrible disservice to those they lead. They bring their junior colleagues into disrepute. If they could talk sensibly and credibly about detecting crime they would gain the public’s trust. The public want to know the force is led by competent senior officers and to feel safe but often it isn’t and they can’t.
Should cooperating in investigating errors be ‘extraordinary’?
Here are examples of what I mean by ‘mealy-mouthed language’. Take the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Dame Cressida Dick, saying that she would be “extraordinarily cooperative” with an investigation into her role in the botched multi million pound investigation called Operation Midland. Operation Midland was the investigation arising from the complaints made by Carl Beech of historic child sexual abuse and murder. He was later himself investigated and charged with perverting the course of justice, found to have been a paedophile and in 2019 sentenced to 18 years imprisonment. By adding the word ‘extraordinarily’ to ‘cooperative’ (i.e. willing to help or do what’s asked) Cressida Dick’s insincerity comes across loud and clear. “The lady doth protest too much” as Hamlet’s Gertrude says. Ms Dick’s in charge of the largest police force in the country. We ought to be able to presume that she would cooperate fully with the investigation of their own cock up – oughtn’t we? But if she assures us that she will cooperate ‘extraordinarily’ it implies that this is a bit of an extraordinary effort she is making this time. How kind of her to be so cooperative.
Does ‘sitting above’ mean supervising?
Dame Cressida Dick was referred to the police watchdog, the IOPC, by the Mayor of London’s Office for Policing and Crime over her handling of Operation Midland following a complaint from a member of the public. She had been supervising the senior investigating officer Detective Superintendent Kenny McDonald. He was the one who made the statement to the press early on that the claims by Carl Beech were “credible and true”. Dame Cressida Dick told Radio 4’s Today programme at the end of last year: “I certainly regret the phrase ‘credible and true’. I have apologised for the fact that that happened in the few weeks that I sat above Operation Midland and supervised the senior officer.” “Sat above”? What’s wrong with the normal word ‘supervise’? Her choice of words minimises the important role she had.
Schoolboy errors due to lack of experience
In an interview on LBC news much earlier she said she’d actually heard Kenny McDonald say those words at the time, on the radio, and had known they were wrong. She’d done nothing about it though – just let the comment go viral. No properly trained, astute police officer of whatever rank should think it’s reasonable to start talking publicly about the veracity of a complaint long before it’s been investigated properly. How is it that a detective superintendent could get that so wrong and, when he did realise his mistake, do nothing about it? Worse, how could the Commissioner hear the comment, know it was wrong but do nothing about it? Could it be that they were both way out of their depth?
In reality it is unlikely that either Mr McDonald or Dame Cressida Dick have done much detective work but if they have, it’s even worse. I suspect that throughout their careers they were mainly in uniform and in managerial roles. Criminal cases are not worked by senior officers. It’s usually the detectives and sergeants, not even the inspectors, who do the work on the ground and the interviews of suspects. They’re the ones with the experience of catching criminals and they would not have made such a basic error as happened here.
Responding to suggestions that some people wanted officers to face stern consequences for the many failings of Midland Operation, Cressida Dick said: “I’m sure some people would want heads to roll”. Well, yes, that’s true, but it sounds like she doesn’t. Surely their schoolboy errors, costing millions of pounds, taking police away from other duties and causing so much harm, needs to be dealt with decisively. But of course she was involved in the poor handling of the investigation, especially while she ‘sat above’ Mr McDonald and so she’s unlikely to be recommending her own conduct should be looked into, however ‘extraordinarily’ she’s going to cooperate with an IOPC investigation. Her evasiveness is transparent.
‘Lessons will [not] be learned’
Following the London Bridge attack last November 2019, when 28-year-old Usman Khan, who had been convicted of a terrorism offence in 2012, killed two people and injured two others before he was shot dead by police, Dame Cressida Dick said she recognised there were ‘lessons to be learned’ but made no comment on what went wrong or what those lessons might be. Instead she waffled that “Sometimes it is very hard to know what someone’s intent is. People are sometimes extremely private and we have had cases of that in the last couple of years where somebody had been intent on carrying out a lethal attack or even tried to and there was absolutely no sign to anybody else.” Take a look at the video on the YouTube New Culture Forum Channel, here. It shows Deputy Police Commissioner Steve House refusing to comment on the decision to let Khan into the London Bridge event and forgetting to say, until reminded by the Deputy Mayor of London, that the decision was one involving the probation service. Heaven forbid that anyone should answer questions in a direct and clear way. Suffice to say it’s incredible that Khan was allowed to attend the meeting and given a one day exemption to his ban on being in London. Yet the force in which the attack happened and people died and were injured is content not to comment on what went wrong. How can the public be confident that ‘lessons will be learned’?
Criminal damage? What criminal damage?
More recently we have examples of poor policing arising from the BLM protests around the country. The police should know what crimes are, after all that’s what they’re about, but no, they watch statues being torn down and the Cenotaph was daubed with graffiti but don’t seem to realise it’s criminal damage and don’t take action till they’re put under pressure after the event.
The public are not fools and can see these failures and the evasive answers for what they are.
For an insider’s appraisal of what’s going wrong, listen to ex-Metropolitan Police chief, Kevin Hurley, describe how front line police are failed by their leadership.
Until the whole leadership team changes, with new people at the top who have these essential skills, public confidence in the police is bound to continue to decline.
Jill Canvin, 21 July 2020