Is the Metropolitan Police institutionally corrupt?
The report of the Daniel Morgan independent panel mentions 'corruption' 718 times. A guided tour of the report
Written and narrated by David Allen Green, produced by Tom Hannen
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REPORTER: Is the Metropolitan Police institutionally corrupt? That the Metropolitan Police, the largest police force in the United Kingdom, is institutionally corrupt is a finding of the independent panel into the 1987 murder of Daniel Morgan and its aftermath of successive failed investigations and collapsed prosecutions.
The panel was appointed in 2013, and now, eight years later, has published a three-volume, 256-page report. The report is detailed and methodical, sourced and footnoted, based on interviews and thousands of documents. But does the report make out this finding of institutional corruption? How does the report define this term? Does the report apply this term consistently? Does the report show what is caught by the definition and what is not? And does the report substantiate what is a serious charge?
For it is one thing to assert that there is institutional corruption, but it is another to demonstrate it. Note the report makes the finding of institutional corruption in the present tense and not just in a historical sense. That there is institutional corruption in 2021 and not just in the late 1980s and 1990s.
At a press conference for the publication of a report, a member of the panel said, "Institutional corruption is not used in a historic sense. It is used in a current sense." Corruption in the Metropolitan Police is not new. Sir Robert Mark, commissioner of the Metropolitan Police from 1972 to 1977, wrote in 1978 that the CID of the Metropolitan Police was the most routinely corrupt organisation in London. And that there were problems on the institutional plane in the Metropolitan Police is also not new.
The MacPherson report into the police failings in respect of the investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence found institutional racism. The MacPherson report said the investigation was marred by a combination of professional incompetence, institutional racism, and a failure of leadership by senior officers.
The MacPherson report defined find institutional racism as consisting of the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes, and behaviour, which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness, and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people.
So corruption at the Metropolitan Police is not new, and that there are problems institutionally at the Metropolitan Police is also not new. But what about institutional corruption? For Daniel Morgan independent panel were explicitly required to look into the question of corruption at the Metropolitan Police.
The terms of reference stated, "The purpose and remit of the independent panel is to shine a light into the circumstances of Daniel Morgan's murder, its background, and the handling of the case over the whole period since 1987. In doing so, the panel will seek to address four questions arising, including the role played by police corruption in protecting those responsible for the murder from being brought to justice and the failure to confront that corruption."
The panel adopted a broad definition of corruption for the purposes of the report. The definition was based on key elements of dishonesty and benefit and allowed for the involvement of a variety of actors and a variety of forms of benefit. The panel included in this definition some instances of failures on the part of senior officers and managers in failing to identify corruption, failing to confront corruption, failing to manage investigations, and failing to take a fresh look at past mistakes and failures, and so on.
These failings do not automatically fall within the definition of corruption. Some may result from professional incompetence or poor management. However, when the failures cannot reasonably be explained as genuine error and indicate dishonesty for the benefit of the organisation, in the panel's view, they amount to institutional corruption.
The panel identified failures in the original investigation. As regards the original murder investigation, it is not clear in every instance which failings were attributable to corruption and which to incompetence, poor management, failures to comply with national policy, and police practise falling far below the expected standards at the time.
There are examples of all of these in the first two investigations. The Metropolitan Police's lack of candour, both about corruption and about other failings, obscures the truth still further. When failings in police investigations are combined with unjustified reassurances rather than candour on the part of the Metropolitan Police, this may constitute institutional corruption.
The Metropolitan Police's culture of obfuscation and a lack of candour is unhealthy in any public service. Concealing or denying failings for the sake of your organisation's public image is dishonesty on the part of the organisation for reputational benefit. In the panel's view, this constitutes a form of institutional corruption.
The report provides examples of corruption in the noninstitutional sense. For example, the leakage of police information to people suspected of criminal offences. But the report also provides a number of illustrative examples of what it means by institutional corruption. And these are taken from both the earliest and most recent investigations. These illustrative examples show how the first investigation was compromised by serious mistakes and incompetence, but then shows the failure of senior management to confront that corruption promptly.
The investigation had already been compromised, including through loss of evidence and forensic failures causing irretrievable damage to the prospects of successfully bringing those responsible for the murder to justice. Senior management was responsible for lack of effective oversight of the first investigation and failure to act promptly to confront corruption.
A further example is provided of a senior police officer seeking to cover up any possibility of police involvement in the murder of Daniel Morgan. And the problems are not only within the Metropolitan Police. The report provides an example of institutional corruption involving multiple organisations.
Three organisations, Hampshire Constabulary, the Metropolitan Police, and the Police Complaints Authority, accepted the omissions and inaccuracies in a final report despite their awareness to the contrary. Their acceptance of this final report and their failure to act cannot reasonably be explained as coincidence or as genuine error.
These cumulative failures amount to institutional corruption on the part of all three organisations. The report also details the problems the panel has had since it was established in 2013. There was not insignificant obstruction to the panel's work. At times, the contact between the panel and the Metropolitan Police resembled police contact with litigants, rather than with a body established by the Home Secretary to inquire into the case and to which the Metropolitan Police had promised to make exceptional and full disclosure.
The panel concludes that despite the expressed commitment by the Metropolitan Police in the terms of reference to support the panel's work, the Metropolitan Police did not approach for panel's scrutiny with candour in an open, honest, and transparent way, making exceptional and full disclosure of relevant documents.
The family of Daniel Morgan suffered grievously as a consequence of the failure to bring his murderers to justice via unwarranted assurances which they were given, the misinformation which was put into the public domain, and the denial of the failings in investigation, including failing to acknowledge professional incompetence, individuals' venal behaviour, and managerial and organisational failures. The Metropolitan Police also repeatedly failed to take a fresh, thorough, and critical look at past failings.
The lack of candour and the repeated failure to take a fresh, thorough, and critical look at past failings are all symptoms of institutional corruption which prioritises institutional reputation over public accountability. So, in this report, the panel has provided a definition of corruption generally and the definition of institutional corruption in particular.
It has shown what is caught within this definition and what is not caught by this definition. It has also provided a number of examples to illustrate institutional corruption from the first investigation onwards. The panel can, therefore, be seen as having substantiated the serious finding of institutional corruption in the Metropolitan Police.
But in response to this report, some have either not acknowledged or denied this finding of institutional corruption. Sir Ian Blair, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police from 2005 to 2008, said, "The allegation that the Met is institutionally corrupt is just not true. There is no evidence of systematic corruption in the Metropolitan Police." And the Metropolitan Police itself in its published response to the report made no mention of institutional corruption. "We accept corruption and the malicious acts of corrupt individuals were a major factor in the failure of the first investigation. The Met of today is not for Met of 34 years ago."
The report of the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel mentions the word corruption 718 times in a 1,256-page document. It provides detailed examples of corruption, of obstruction, and of delay. Indeed, the final documents were not provided to the panel by the Met until 2021. Former and current senior police officers may not recognise institutional corruption and they may even deny that there is such a thing as institutional corruption, but the Metropolitan Police are going to have to provide a far more substantial response to this substantially made-out charge, otherwise there will be a risk of institutional denial.