When she began her opening statement on her damning report into the Met Police, Baroness Casey warned the journalists in the room that she may sound “emotional”.
This emotion that she mentioned was clear as she delivered her findings on the Met Police, a force which she deemed “institutionally racist, sexist, and homophobic” - and in particular when she spoke on Sarah Everard, whose murder at the hands of serving police officer Wayne Couzens was the catalyst for this examination of the Met.
Baroness Casey’s pre-warned “emotion” came through in multiple ways. It came through in the passion with which she spoke on the blatant issues present within the force: “Why is it still a conversation that someone with indecent exposure or reports of domestic violence on their record is even considered to be able to be a police officer? Some of this stuff is just off the barometer.”
It also came through in her confidence in her findings. “Do I think the Met Police should say they are institutionally sexist?” she said to the room. “Yes, because I know they are. Do I think they should say they are institutionally racist, institutionally homophobic? Yes, because I know they are.”
Baroness Casey’s authenticity in this regard was perhaps not what some may have expected when walking into the room - but it was welcome. It made for a much more productive discussion.
In fact, the briefing ran over time simply because Casey, who of course, had just delivered a 363-page report, was eager to talk at length about the failures of the Met. “Sorry,” she apologised, “this is just the first time I’ve been able to talk about this.”
She was also insistent on giving a voice to the victims she had spoken to - while also ensuring that the onus should no longer be on them to fight for change. “As Reverend Mina Smallman, mother of two murdered daughters and victim of Met officers’ crimes, told me: ‘What we can’t have is the only reason that people who corrupt the police are taken in hand is by the tenacity of the women and the families they abused.’”
Instead, the onus was clearly placed on the Met. “It is absolutely vital that the Met Police wake up today to the findings in this review, which are very grave, very serious. There must be fundamental change. We cannot wait another decade.
“It is really important that this isn’t one of those watershed moments that everyone feels drowned in, but a landmark moment for Londoners.” She was clear. She was passionate. And she was searingly honest about her concerns.
“My fear today is that as your news cycles go and other news stories take my place, that the Met and police services will move on. But it can’t as it will let women down, it will let children down, and it will let people of colour down.”
The atmosphere at the police press briefing was, naturally, quite different. It was slightly more formal in its style, and, although Sir Mark Rowley said he felt a strong sense of “shame and anger” when reading the report, his emotions were more restrained when fielding questions.
“We are under no illusions about the significance of this moment,” he told reporters. “The appalling examples of discrimination, the letting down of communities and victims, and the strain faced by the front line are unacceptable. I’m deeply sorry for that.”
One of the things the Commissioner was repeatedly pressed on by journalists was whether he accepted that the Met was “institutionally racist, sexist and homophobic”. Earlier, in Baroness Casey’s press conference, she said that if this was not accepted, the Met would be “clutching at straws.”
“I accept her diagnosis about the racism, misogyny and homophobia in the organisation,” he responded. “And also that we have these systemic failings, management failings, cultural failings. I understand her use of the term institutional.
“But it’s not a term I use myself. I’m a practical police officer. I have to use language that’s unambiguous and is apolitical, and that term means lots of different things to different people and has become politicised in recent debate over the last decade or so.”
Rowley was pressed on why he would “accept a diagnosis of racism, misogyny and homophobia” - but not accept that it was “institutional”. Unfortunately, the reasons he gave remained unconvincing, and no significant headway was made in reaching a conclusion. So this was the moment when the Met’s often-discussed sense of denial reared its ugly head.
On other topics however, the Commissioner was keen to not shy away from the issues at hand. When one journalist queried whether things like cuts and austerity had contributed to the state of the Met, he insisted that there could be “no excuses” and that the main problems lay with policing.
He also spoke candidly about his view on the report, which he described as “disturbing, upsetting, and heartbreaking.” Sir Mark went on: “To be part of an organisation that has let individuals down so badly is deeply upsetting. And that’s where part of my own motivation comes from. Because we have to right this wrong. We have to deal with these cultural problems. And the vast majority of my colleagues are up for this.”
Deputy Commissioner Dame Lynne Owens spoke less often than Sir Mark in the briefing, but when she was responding to questions - she was pretty blatant about her views. “Those words are not strong enough for me to encapsulate the horrors of what some officers have done,” she said, responding to a journalist who asked whether she agreed with Baroness Casey that the Met is “broken” and “rotten”. (Even if she did go on to say that those words do not apply to all police officers - which, albeit true, just wasn’t the point to be made at that moment).
But then again, Dame Lynne also seemed to be committed to proving her commitment to reforming the Met. She often said she was “reluctant” to give examples of what changes had been put in place, as she did not want to come across as “defensive”. Instead, she said: “There have been a lot of words. But we want to be judged by our actions.” Only time will tell what outcome this has.