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Angela Tilby: Dame Cressida Dick was a political football

18 February 2022


The former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Dame Cressida Dick, with the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, last October

The former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Dame Cressida Dick, with the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, last October

ALMOST everyone has piled in to criticise Dame Cressida Dick after she was forced to stand down as Metropolitan Police Commissioner by the Mayor of London. She has been a lightning rod for social grievances in the capital and for those who blame her for the outrages committed by serving officers, including the murder of Sarah Everard by Wayne Couzens. Dame Cressida had recently produced plans for reform, plans that Sadiq Khan casually trashed as inadequate before sacking her.

She is the third of four recent Commissioners to leave before completing their term. The only one of her immediate predecessors to serve their full term was Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, whose name is associated with the sex-abuse investigations Operation Yewtree and Operation Midland, both of which led to false allegations against several public figures. Yet he survived, a hero of the right wing. His successors, Sir Ian Blair and Sir Paul Stephenson, both left early.

I have always admired Dame Cressida, not least for her stoicism, her dogged attention to duty, her sense of responsibility, and her self-control. One to one, she is reported to be warm and humane, widely liked and trusted.

This, given that she was female, openly gay, and read The Guardian, should give pause to those who make much of the apparent macho locker-room culture of the Met. It has been a right-on liberal Mayor who ousted her, not a conspiracy of hard-Right, sexist, gay-bashing officers. And it is hard to see how a top-down change of culture can police those who conform outwardly while indulging their porn habits and perverse “banter” on smartphones.

The Met’s real problems are its reach and its governance. London’s Police Force also tackles serious national and international crime. It employs 53,000 people, more than the Royal Navy.

Since 2008, the Commissioner has been accountable not only to the Home Secretary, but also to the Mayor of London. Problems are likely to arise when the Mayor and the Home Secretary represent different political parties. Sir Ian Blair served under a Labour Home Secretary, but was then forced to resign by the incoming Mayor, Boris Johnson: an exact parallel to what happened last week.

Dame Cressida had just had her term extended for two years by the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, when Sadiq Khan terminated her, much to Ms Patel’s annoyance. It is hard not to get things wrong when you are a political football. No one can serve two masters, as the Lord said. And there is the longstanding problem of underfunding and cuts.

Dame Cressida Dick deserves better, and, in time, I hope she is remembered as an outstanding public servant and an example of decent, liberal-minded, firm, but fair policing, prematurely pulled from an extraordinarily tough job by political opportunism and poor governance.

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