Those who try to make a difference within the Met are ostracised and vilified
When Baroness Louise Casey’s report on the toxic culture of the Metropolitan Police was published, pointing to the racism and sexism on an “institutional” scale, my initial reaction was one of vindication.
As a former Chief Superintendent in the Met, I admit I am pleased with how strong the findings of this report are. If they’re taken seriously, I believe this could be a watershed moment for policing.
When I originally joined the force in 1989, I wanted to make a difference in the community and deal with criminals. But over the course of my 30-year career, my energy and enthusiasm were broken down as I faced sexism and racism.
My disappointment culminated in the summer of 2019. I was angry with what I saw as the failings of the Met to protect women, both inside and outside of the policing family, so I raised the issue with my then-Commissioner, Cressida Dick.
Angrily – and in front of another colleague – I told her that she had taken the Met Police backwards, to the time before the Macpherson report (into the Met’s handling of the murder of Stephen Lawrence), and the recommendations it had laid out.
Admittedly, I lost my temper. Yet to my surprise, Cressida Dick just turned her back on me and walked off. I expected to be called to her office later to discuss my outburst. I anticipated a dressing down from her. But it didn’t happen.
It wasn’t the first time I was saying something that the then management team did not want to hear. When I raised wrongdoing by senior officers (in an unrelated case) I was investigated, when I challenged my manager for his refusal to support part-time working for carers, I was threatened that it would hurt my career.
My career in the police became about survival – and making a difference for those who came after me. On too many occasions I was a lone voice speaking out about language, actions and lack of concern, as others chose to keep their heads down and ignore what was going on in order to protect themselves.
When I was tasked to review part-time working of officers, HR told me that only those who worked full hours were wanted. I pointed out this was against policy, and discriminatory against women, but was told that the Chief Superintendent would be “furious” unless I complied.
The quote that especially sticks was one about managing a young family – I was told: “They need to choose if they want to be a mother or a police officer.” The calls went on into the evening to my home. I didn’t back down and years of bullying followed, with every action I took being questioned and pulled apart, and briefings against me made to senior officers.
To be clear, while there are some people whose behaviour and actions are totally unacceptable, there are more people who are willing to stand by and not challenge the status quo. For leaders, this is unacceptable.
As I detail in my book, Black and Blue, it leads to the culture where bigots, racists, misogynists and homophobes can exist, and where those who try to make a difference are ostracised and vilified. This is how the ‘bad apples’ get their power and become institutionalised.
I felt I was part of a lonely battle trying to fight for change alone. In the end I was tired, I couldn’t get the dialogue going, and I was forced to resign.
I wrote my resignation letter, detailing that I was finally giving in to the bullies due to racism and sexism. I expected to have a discussion about the ‘allegations’ I was making, but no one contacted me.
In the end I demanded an exit interview and met with the Deputy Commissioner and a Commander. The meeting was friendly but did not feel like one where I was being taken seriously or that my concerns were going to be acted upon.
I took the Met to an employment tribunal, something I didn’t want to do, because in the end no one wins. For me it was the only way to be heard, and I felt vindicated. Today is another day where I feel that at last the things I have been saying and challenging throughout my career are being finally acknowledged. The question for me now is whether or not real change will come from it.
Sir Mark Rowley seems an honourable man focused on bringing about change but he is not new to the Met. He was a senior leader until 2018, in charge of the two units that Baroness Casey has singled out, and was seemingly unable to then get the issues resolved. I doubt he will be able to do so now, especially since he finds it impossible to admit the force is institutionally racist, homophobic and misogynistic.
The Met thinks it is protecting itself against the actions of its staff – yet in reality it is the Met’s denial of the structural problems which are preventing change.
Every organisation has people who do things wrong. When the organisation has powers and responsibilities to protect citizens, however, this can not be accepted. When some of those officers go on to use their position to carry out the most heinous crimes of murder and rape, the whole organisation is responsible, especially those in charge. When the members of that organisation have less trust in it than the general public, staff from diverse backgrounds feel they are oppressed. If the outcomes for the public differ depending upon your race, ethnicity or sexual orientation – then it is institutionally corrupt by default.
The leadership must accept this and address it by breaking down the institution and letting the public in to have more visibility, control and influence on its work. Summarising the founder of modern policing Sir Robert Peel’s principle from nearly 200 years ago, the public must be the police – and the police must be the public.
Black and Blue: One Woman’s Story of Policing and Prejudice by Parm Sandhu is out now (£20, Atlantic Books). To order from Telegraph Books for £10.99, call 0844 871 1515 or visit books.telegraph.co.uk