Sir Mark Rowley has insisted there is “momentum” to overhaul the Metropolitan Police in the wake of a damning review which laid bare shocking behaviour and culture within the ranks.
The boss of Britain’s biggest police force stressed that action is being taken but said he does not want to over-simplify the scale of the task after a review by Baroness Louise Casey found the Met is institutionally racist, misogynist and homophobic and exposed a slew of troubling incidents.
The Commissioner’s comments came as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer clashed in the Commons – with the Government standing accused of “sheer negligence” towards policing.
Meanwhile, a war of words continued over the use of the phrase “institutional” to describe the failings, with Baroness Casey saying that the Commissioner branding it a political term is a “get-out-of-jail card” for those facing scrutiny over difficult subjects.
She later told MPs Sir Mark was “splitting hairs over words” but that he accepted the conclusions overall and that the force should be completely reformed if it cannot change.
Speaking to politicians at City Hall on Wednesday, the head of the Met said the report “calls out discrimination in the organisation”, not just from individuals, but “also the systemic failings within it, the management failings and the cultural failings”, adding: “I welcome the findings and hope it acts as a catalyst.”
Sir Mark told the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee that he and senior leaders have been through a “bit of a rollercoaster of emotions” as they digested the findings, including anger, frustration, embarrassment and being upset, but also more “positive emotions” because it “redoubles your intent and your resolve”.
He said they have to “absorb” over the next few weeks the “weight of Louise’s thinking” and build them into his plans for reform.
“We have momentum, we are building that momentum, and we welcome the sort of additional thinking that can make it more profound.”
He said it is “helpful” that the report highlighted problems outside the Met’s control – such as funding and growing demand – but they must not be used as an “excuse”, adding: “The core of this is on us, it’s on us to fix.”
“I and my new leadership team, we are galvanising the Met. We’re trying to bring other people in to help us,” he said, later adding: “I don’t want to say ‘I’m not doing anything at the moment, I’m just going to think for the next few months’, because that would sound a bit wet, frankly. Because that’s not what’s happening – there’s lots that we are doing.
“But likewise, I don’t want to imply a list of six things is going to fix everything.”
Asked how anyone can “survive” working in the Met and how the behaviour laid bare in the Casey review is acceptable in a modern workplace, Sir Mark said: “So, just to give an example, a couple of years ago, a senior officer – this has been in the papers (and in this report) – a senior officer decided not to dismiss somebody who had a criminal conviction for masturbating on the train on the way home from work.
“What does that license? What’s the message that sends? It’s appalling. So I’ve got some legacy to clear up.
“We have to be ruthless on this. The vast majority of my people have nothing to fear, and they know that, and they’re as embarrassed and angry by this as I am.”
The officer in question was given a final written warning rather than being dismissed after the 2018 conviction for outraging public decency.
Deputy Mayor of London Sophie Linden previously told MPs that the case is among 1,100 files from the past 10 years being reviewed by the Met.
“And I suppose the tenor in my voice today is because I actually feel that I feel desperate to ensure that the Metropolitan Police Service and anybody that can hold them to account actually does get them to change, and if they don’t change – if the combination of new leadership, the combination of different support, different powers, a new committee – I don’t think we should leave it forever.
“If something can’t be changed, if it can’t be fixed, then reform it completely.”
She also said the Met must call in external advisers to bring about change, telling the committee: “If they don’t do it, I don’t intend to stand by them.”
During a rowdy Prime Minister’s Questions, Sir Keir called on ministers to “end the farce” of different recruitment standards across police forces.
“No wonder the Casey report criticised what she calls the Government’s hands-off attitude to policing over the last 13 years, but let’s call it what it really is: sheer negligence,” he said.
“Nobody reading the Casey report can be left in any doubt about how serious this is and doubt for a second that it’s restricted to the Met.”
Mr Sunak said the Government is “already taking action” to tackle the problems raised in the report and that, while this will not “undo the terrible damage”, “we owe this action and more to the victims and survivors to ensure that such tragedies never happen again”.
The Prime Minister did not say when challenged if he accepts the findings of the Casey review in full, but told MPs he was “appalled to read the descriptions of the abhorrent cases of officers who have betrayed the public’s trust and abused their powers. And, let me be clear, it is and was unacceptable and should never have happened.”
The Government will “now work with the Mayor and the Metropolitan Commissioner to ensure that culture, standards and behaviour all improve”, he added.