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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Kevin Rawlinson

Met chief apologises for force’s treatment of LGBTQ+ people

The Met police commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley.
Sir Mark Rowley wrote: ‘I am sorry to all of the communities we have let down for the failings of the past.’ Photograph: Jordan Pettitt/PA

Scotland Yard has apologised to the LGBTQ+ community for past failings, in what campaigners have hailed as a historic first they hope other police forces around the UK will follow.

The Met police commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, made the admission in a letter to Peter Tatchell, a prominent British LGBTQ+ activist.

Rowley acknowledged that, while police had to enforce the law at a time when homosexuality was criminalised, the way it was sometimes enforced had “failed the community” – a fact that persisted in the “collective memory of LGBT+ Londoners of all ages”.

He added: “The Met has had systems and processes in place which have led to bias and discrimination in the way we have policed London’s communities, and in the way we have treated our officers and staff, over many decades.

“Recent cases of appalling behaviour by some officers have revealed that there are still racists, misogynists, homophobes and transphobes in the organisation, and we have already doubled down on rooting out those who corrupt and abuse their position.”

And he told Tatchell: “I am clear that there is much for us to do. I am sorry to all of the communities we have let down for the failings of the past and look forward to building a new Met for London, one all Londoners can be proud of and in which they can have confidence.”

The activist has been leading a campaign to get police forces across the UK to acknowledge their roles in victimising the gay community over many years under the banner “ApologiseNow”.

The campaign was supported by the television star Paul O’Grady before his death in March, and a launch event at the House of Lords on Wednesday was attended by his partner, Andre Portasio.

Tatchell has called the apology a “groundbreaking step forward” that “draws a line under past Met persecution”. He thanked Rowley “for being the first UK police chief to say sorry for decades-long victimisation” of this community.

He added: “We are not asking the police to apologise for enforcing the law, but to apologise for the often illegal and abusive way they enforced it.

“Officers raided gay bars, clubs and even private birthday parties, insulting LGBTs as ‘poofs’ and ‘queers’. They gave the names and addresses of arrested gay men to local papers, which led to some being evicted, sacked and violently beaten. Police harassed LGBTs leaving gay venues and arrested same-sex couples for kissing, cuddling and holding hands, right up until the 1990s.”

Rowley has sought in recent months to cast himself as a modernising figure at the head of the UK’s largest police force, as it comes under huge pressure over the way it polices marginalised communities. In March, he apologised after the damning report by Louise Casey, which found there was racism, misogyny and homophobia in the force.

Since writing the letter to Tatchell, the Met police commissioner has said that “acknowledging our failings and apologising to those we have let down has been an important first step before we start a new chapter at the Met”.

Rowley added: “I have been clear that we need to change, both in the service we provide to Londoners and in the need to create an inclusive and diverse workforce.”

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