Rowley rejects ‘institutional’ label to describe racism, sexism and homophobia at the Met Police

Commissioner denies he is being defensive while report author admits ‘several hundred’ could be removed from the Met, reports Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter

Baroness Casey (left) and Met Police commissioner Mark Rowley (right) take questions from the London Assembly's police and crime committee (credit Noah Vickers/Local Democracy Reporting Service)
Baroness Casey (left) and Met Police commissioner Mark Rowley (right) take questions from the London Assembly’s police and crime committee (credit Noah Vickers/Local Democracy Reporting Service)

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley has repeated his refusal to use the word “institutional” when describing the issues of racism, sexism and homophobia in his force.

The police chief insisted that he nonetheless “completely accepts the diagnosis” of Baroness Casey’s damning report into the Met and “there is zero defensiveness here”.

Sir Mark said he was content to use the word “systemic” to describe the Met’s problems, but that “institutional” was a “political” word with an “ambiguous” range of meanings.

He was challenged on the point by Caroline Russell, a Green member of the London Assembly, at a Wednesday meeting of the assembly’s police and crime committee. Earlier in the meeting, Baroness Casey had said Sir Mark’s refusal to use the word “rings hollow”, despite the high level respect she has for him and his leadership of the Met.

Caroline said: “How can Londoners have confidence that things will change. They want to see that defensiveness, denial being addressed.

“Now I absolutely accept that you accept all the findings in the report, but I’m just saying that Londoners – they want to hear that.

“They’ve been waiting decades for that institutional, systemic racism in the Met to be seen and to be addressed and I just wonder if you’ve reflected on whether you could use the word ‘institutional’, systemic racism, since all the comment and conversation on this?”

Sir Mark responded: “I have used the word systemic. So just to be very clear on this, there is zero defensiveness here. I completely accept the diagnosis that [Dame] Louise [Casey] and her team have put on the table.

“I have, from last September, talked about systemic failings. So I’ve been really clear that while we have racists, misogynists and homophobes, this is not just about individuals, this about systemic failings that create bias. It’s about management failings, it’s about cultural failings.

“As a police officer I’m most focused on the practicalities of action and the things we’re doing. I do recognise though that words are important. The reason I’ve chosen not to use that word myself – I’m not disputing other people’s right to use it, I’m not trying to undermine that in any way.

“It’s simply two things though. One – it is an ambiguous term. In wider debate, it gets used very differently. A journalist yesterday picked a random definition out of the dictionary about institutional which has nothing to do with the Casey definition or the Macpherson [report into Stephen Lawrence’s murder] definition.

“The Macpherson definition has one definition – [Dame] Louise [Casey] sort of rephrases it with four bullet points.

“I just need to be practical, and I think, for me, talking credibly as a leader, I get it’s systemic, I get it’s management, I get it’s cultural and we’re going after it – that’s why I’ve come to that.

“And also, besides being ambiguous, it has been a concept which [politicians of the] left and right have kicked around, about its validity or not – and that doesn’t make it any easier either.

“If I think something is the right thing to say, I couldn’t care less whether Labour like it, or Lib Dems, or the Tories like it, I’ll say it if it’s the right thing to say. But if it’s also confusing, I can’t go there.”

He added: “I know a lot of people who don’t take part in these sort of ethereal discussions that we have – a lot of people instinctively think ‘well, that [the word ‘institutional’] probably means most people are racist’. Now I know that’s not what it means, but I think that’s the danger of it.”

At the same committee meeting, Baroness Casey said that “several hundred” officers could be expected to be removed from the Metropolitan Police after being asked how many officers could be dismissed as a result of her report.

“Sir Mark will have a greater sense for himself. I just know that we’re not talking hundreds – we are talking several hundreds, would be my estimation.”

Sir Mark later appeared to confirm that estimation, telling the committee: “I will be publishing some data in the next couple of weeks, which I had promised to at the end of March, in terms of the reviews we’re doing.

“That will show that our dismissals, for example, have gone up quite sharply, and suspensions, the number of investigations, the amount of reports coming from officers, is going up – so you can see progress on that.

“We’re also testing a different legal route to remove officers, who we think no longer pass the vetting standards, which is something that hasn’t been done in the past.

“So, removing the hundreds of people that shouldn’t be here [in the Met] is clearly a part of the solution, and you will start to see progress on that in my next update – as much as setting up the vast majority of good people with better resources to do that.”

Caroline Pidgeon, the Liberal Democrat assembly member who had asked the question, said after the meeting: “To learn several hundred officers are potentially facing dismissal really highlights just how widespread the rot within the force has become and pours cold water on the notion by some that this is only about a ‘few bad apples’.

“It is now vital that this report serves as a starting point for a total culture change within the police service in London and that the advice given is actioned upon.”