It was seen as inevitable in police circles that efforts to clean up London’s Metropolitan Police would bring fresh scandals to light. But when Sir Mark Rowley began the task as the new Met commissioner in September last year, few anticipated a case as chilling as that of David Carrick.
Carrick, who served in the same elite parliamentary and diplomatic protection unit as Wayne Couzens, who abducted and murdered Londoner Sarah Everard in 2021, has pleaded guilty to 49 charges of rape and other sexual offences. He will be sentenced next month.
Shocking details about his depravity together with revelations about the number of other serving officers whose alleged past misconduct is now under scrutiny have taken a fresh toll on public confidence, raising fundamental questions about the way the police are themselves policed.
“Carrick was known by his colleagues as ‘bastard Dave’ . . . He was hiding in plain sight,” said Zoe Billingham, chair of the Police Remuneration Review Bodies, who until 2021 worked for more than a decade in HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, which oversees the police.
The case has refocused attention on the body of evidence from previous scandals, and inquiries that came in their wake, of a toxic culture of misogyny and racism within the ranks, piling renewed pressure on the Met and other police forces across the UK to clean up their act.
“We are appalled that Carrick used his status as an officer to access and coerce his victims, and that a culture of impunity gave him the confidence to abuse women in such a depraved way,” said Andrea Simon, director of the End Violence Against Women campaign group.
Over the course of two decades, the Met failed to follow up on multiple reports about Carrick’s abusive and violent behaviour towards women. The force, the UK’s largest, is now reviewing 1,633 allegations of sexual or domestic violence against 1,071 officers and staff to ensure these were dealt with appropriately at the time.
Forces across England and Wales have been asked this week to cross check the records of their staff against national police databases to identify rogue officers who may have “slipped through the net”.
But Simon said it was far too early to even talk about women regaining trust in the police. That could only begin to happen, she said when abusive officers had been removed from their jobs, and the culture that allowed them to go undeterred was seen to have changed.
The scale of the task at hand is underscored by the apparent lack of follow-through when members of the public make complaints about police officers.
Almost 90 per cent of the 395 Met officers and staff to receive 10 or more public complaints in the decade to December 2020 remained employed with no ongoing investigation against them, shows data analysis by the Financial Times.
Moreover, 16 Met officers and staff had received 20 or more complaints in the decade. Only one of them was no longer employed by the force and one other was still under investigation when the data was provided.
Complaints can range from accusations of low-level dissatisfaction to serious misconduct. The data, obtained via freedom of information requests, did not show how many complaints were upheld.
The findings underline concerns that the police are not properly monitoring or dismissing problem officers, against a backdrop of debate over whether police leaders or regulations are to blame for low officer dismissal rates.
“On the basis of your data, it looks like there are a lot of people in policing who shouldn’t be,” said Rick Muir, director of the Police Foundation, an independent think-tank, suggesting each officer’s record should be reviewed and raising a question about how closely forces track complaints.
The same picture is repeated at a national level.
Responses to FOI requests from half of UK forces show at least 2,300 officers and public-facing staff and volunteers attracted 10 or more complaints in the decade to December 2020. Of the 1,600 for whom outcomes were given, 78 per cent were still serving.
Home secretary Suella Braverman this week announced a review of the police dismissals process, including the role of the independently chaired panels introduced in 2016 to make final decisions on whether to sack officers.
Met commissioner Rowley has called for an overhaul of the regulations that govern the process and admitted that hundreds of serving officers should not be in post.
The Met said in a statement that Rowley was introducing reforms to better identify officers and staff “who corrupt the integrity of the Met through misogyny, homophobia, sexism and other abuse” and that the force used data to look at patterns of misbehaviour and to intervene early.
Chief constables do not have the final say at present over whether an officer is dismissed. When a member of staff is accused of wrongdoing, senior officers determine the seriousness of the claims and whether a further investigation is warranted.
Serious cases are then passed on to a panel with a legally qualified external chair, such as a lawyer, to avoid perceived bias among senior officers.
But some experts believe that the change has been counterproductive. “The whole idea was that independent people would be tougher on misconduct, but actually the reverse has ended up being true,” said Muir.
Giles Orpen-Smellie, the elected police and crime commissioner who externally oversees Norfolk Police, said that senior officers should be able to make initial dismissal decisions with appeals overseen by independent panels.
“We’ve got to make a decision in this country as to whether we trust our chief constables,” he said.
The College of Policing, a professional body, said it could be “misleading” to suggest officers attracting multiple complaints were substandard because complaints can be about welfare or training issues as well as misconduct, and officers could be subject to multiple vexatious or baseless complaints.
In its 2023-2025 Turnaround Plan, released on Friday, the Met acknowledged that “the appalling actions of some officers have had a significant impact on trust”.
But it did not include details on how it would address the issues, saying: “To earn that trust back, the Met must demonstrate effectiveness in our service to victims; in neighbourhood problem solving; in crime prevention; and in the way we investigate crime.”
But after this week’s events, trust is in even shorter supply.
Harriet Wistrich, director of the campaign group Centre for Women’s Justice, has heard testimony from hundreds of women allegedly abused by serving officers and is among many campaigners who no longer believe the police are capable of reforming themselves.
“It may be you need to bring someone left of field to look at the way these things are run,” she said, arguing that recruitment and vetting processes, for example, could have more external input “rather than all being done internally by those who have grown up within police culture”.
“As well as looking at perpetrators (like Carrick),” she added, “we need to look at enablers and those who have turned a blind eye. What have the supervisors and managers been doing to allow these toxic cultures to exist?” she said.
Until now, there has been no standardised code across different police forces spelling out clearly what constitutes misconduct. Braverman sought this week to change that, asking the College of Policing to strengthen the statutory code of practice for police vetting, making the obligations that all forces must legally follow “stricter and clearer”.
The Home office has also commissioned experts to develop, in collaboration with the police, a new approach to handling rape and other sexual offences from June this year.
But Simon said there were still concerns about how effective the policy will be when rolled out at a national level.
“It’s just the beginning,” she said. “The police will have to earn back the trust of women and girls.”