In July 2021, a man pleaded guilty to the murder of Sarah Everard, which he had carried out while serving as a Metropolitan police officer. He had already pleaded guilty to her kidnap and rape. The then Met chief, Cressida Dick, stood on the steps of the Old Bailey and declared: “Everyone in policing feels betrayed.”
And yet, did they? That very same month – the same month – an allegation of rape was made against David Carrick. This allegation led to Carrick’s arrest. But that arrest, for alleged rape – alleged rape – did not even lead to Carrick’s suspension. It led only to his being put on restricted duties.
What are we to conclude from this? That there are so many allegations of rape made every month against Met officers that you honestly just can’t overreact to them all or you’d go mad? Or that the sense of “betrayal” supposedly felt by the Met did not run deep in the most basically meaningful way when it desperately needed to?
How was it possible, in that febrile climate of intense public dismay and anger, which everyone recalls, that the reddest of all flags was not raised when Carrick was accused of rape? How was it possible that, after the murder of Sarah Everard, Carrick was reassessed and judged fit to return to his work as an armed officer? Whatever the answer to those questions, that is what happened.
Forgive my wishful thinking, but you would think an elite police officer would have something called “a file”, which, when he was accused of an offence as serious as rape, would be “looked at”. In this basic scenario, his superiors would note that the officer in question had been the subject of nine previous serious complaints, eight of them involving women, stretching back almost two decades. They would then think “Hang on a minute …” But that is not what happened.
So now there are more questions. After Carrick’s guilty plea to offences that rank him as one of Britain’s worst sex offenders, “the Met is once again facing questions”, in the inadequate parlance of these things. It feels like we have long passed the point where every question the Met is facing begins with the words: “How on EARTH …”
The detective chief inspector whose separate Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire major crime unit ultimately investigated Carrick said yesterday: “It is unbelievable to think these offences could have been committed by a serving police officer.” Sorry, but no. The one thing it isn’t any more is unbelievable.
I note that the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) is now looking at the decision(s) not to bring misconduct proceedings against Carrick. Sorry, the IOPC? Is this the same IOPC whose director general, Michael Lockwood, was only last month forced to resign after the discovery that he himself was under investigation for a historical sexual relationship with a minor? Lockwood had until that point been told to keep working “as normal”, despite having told his deputy that he was facing a criminal inquiry. That deputy is now the acting head of the IOPC. It turns out the IOPC general counsel had also been approached by Lockwood for advice on legal representation, yet had failed to tell others about this. The IOPC has instituted an internal review to ascertain “whether appropriate steps were taken at appropriate times”. In the meantime, I’m sure we all can’t wait to hear what this particular outfit has to say about the Carrick failings.
Out on the airwaves to address the Carrick case, the new Met commissioner Sir Mark Rowley’s big buzzword has been “integrity”. Rowley said yesterday: “We haven’t applied the same sense of ruthlessness to guarding our own integrity that we routinely apply to confronting criminals.” But Carrick WAS a criminal. Multiple criminal complaints about him were routinely ignored. This is about something far less abstract than “integrity”. It turns out 800 Met officers are now being investigated for over 1,000 sexual and domestic abuse claims. Yet this morning Rowley was at pains to claim: “There is such a residual basis of trust in British policing.”
Really? Ask women and girls if they feel that way. It doesn’t really matter if it’s “not all police officers”, if it’s this many of them. Perhaps officers could wear badges with their station nicknames to help the public identify the problem ones. Carrick’s nickname was Bastard Dave – though only because he was “mean and cruel”, the Met’s lead for professionalism, Barbara Gray, was at bizarre pains to clarify yesterday. Not because of anything sexual, you know. I guess this is a step up from the Met’s advice in the wake of the Everard case, where it advised women in fear while being questioned by a lone police officer to wave down a bus.
Gray also stated that the Met’s Carrick failings were “a step back” for policing, which doesn’t exactly cover it unless she’s talking about a step back into the abyss. The idea that the Met is capable of reforming itself is the last refuge of people ultimately interested in it staying much the same. External experts in everything from violence against women to institutional failure and beyond need to come in operationally to effect meaningful change.
Until that happens, the plain reality is that less than 1% of reported rapes lead to a conviction in England and Wales, a systemic collapse aided by the horrendous and high-profile actions of some police officers, which means that the police have arguably the perfect situation for them: one where women are so without faith that the process works that they mostly can’t even face making the complaints in the first place. This morning, former Met chief superintendent Dal Babu said in passing that women often withdrew cooperation from rape inquiries “for whatever reason”. In fact, we know the reasons and can see them very clearly. It is all too often a rational act, which tells you everything about how utterly broken the process is.
In an article about the Carrick case and misogyny in policing, the writer Sian Norris recalled yesterday a heartbreaking quote from the aftermath of the botched Met investigation into the black-cab rapist John Worboys. Despite his first victim having reported her attack at the time, it would be years before she attended an identity parade of Worboys with “20 or 30” other women. “And I just sat in the corner thinking ‘You’re all here because of me,’” this woman reflected. “‘You’re here because I wasn’t believable.’”
And that is where we are. Contrary to those typical statements of the likes of Cressida Dick and many others to this day, the police have not been betrayed. The victims have.
• Marina Hyde is a Guardian columnist
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