"If you want to read a blog to get a sense of what is going on in Hong Kong these days or a blog that would tell you what life was like living in colonial Hong Kong, this blog, WALTER'S BLOG, fits the bill." Hong Kong Blog Review
"All policing is political. Forget the myth of ‘Dickson of Dock Green’ or the pretence of following Peels principles; these are long gone."
Cressida Dick's ousting by London Mayor Sadiq Khan means no Met Commissioner has completed a full term in office since 2005. That should tell us something.
Is the role so fraught with politics and the shifting sands of a febrile society that the job is impossible? It is starting to look that way.
Over the years, Ms Dick featured in several of my blogs; I've ridiculed her, criticised and shown support when I felt appropriate.
Many commentators assert that Ms Dick’s appointment was a diversity hire that ticked certain boxes. But, it is also worth remembering that Mayor Khan was instrumental in her getting the job. He championed her rise despite already evident failings and shortcomings.
And yet, I’m told she enjoyed some success in her early career. Officers I’ve spoken with, who worked along side Dick, rated her as professional and a savvy operator. Unfortunately, later a number of high profile incidents blotted her record:
Jean Charles de Menezes
In the aftermath of the 7/7 terrorist attack of 2005, Dick commanded an operation following a suspect into the Stockwell tube station. Police believed they had another attack about to take place. Jean Charles de Menezes, an innocent man, was then shot seven times in the head by plainclothes police officers as he sat on a tube train. Dick was the Gold Commander, with her control room being criticised for its 'chaotic' nature. An inquiry found the Met guilty of a string of errors, although Dick herself was exonerated.
Operation Midland fantasist
As then assistant police commissioner in 2014, Dick was involved in the operation into the claims of Carl Beech that he was the childhood victim of a high-profile paedophile ring. Officers searched the homes of former Tory MP Harvey Proctor and Lady Brittan, widow of former Home Secretary Leon. The operation collapsed in March 2016, and six-figure payments were made to those affected.
An inquiry by former high court judge Sir Richard Henriques found more than 40 failings in the police operation. Lady Brittan castigated the Met's 'culture of cover-up and flick away' under Dick.
Once in the Commissioner job, Dick had these incidents that attracted brickbats:
Extinction Rebellion farce
In 2019 eco-activists shut down swathes of the capital. Dick was later forced to admit that the Met should have responded quicker. The same group managed to hijack the Remembrance Day commemorations at the Cenotaph a year after.
Sarah Everard murder and vigil
In March 2021, Met PC Wayne Couzens abducted and murdered Sarah Everard. It later emerged that 12 police officers had failed to investigate previous indecent exposure incidents by Couzens, who was nicknamed 'the rapist' by Met colleagues. At a later vigil for Everard, police faced accusations of heavy-handed tactics as they arrested participants.
Wembley shambles July 2021
The perceived heavy-handedness on display at Sarah Everard's vigil contrasted sharply with the policing at Wembley stadium. Thousands of fans smashed their way into the ground after toppling security fences and storming turnstiles. The response of Dick's deputy assistant commissioner Jane Connors, who claimed: "I do not accept that the policing operation failed", was lampooned.
The Daniel Morgan inquiry
Last year Dick found herself embroiled in another controversy as an independent inquiry into the death of Daniel Morgan concluded. Private detective Morgan dead in 1987 with an axe embedded in his head, with no one ever convicted of the killing. The inquiry described the Met as 'institutionally corrupt' with Dick personally censured for obstruction. She stood accused of delaying the inquiries to shield police officers.
Boris's and the Booze
Despite abundant evidence of Covid rule-breaking at Nos 10, Dick held off conducting formal investigations until public outrage reached fever pitch. This was while her officers displayed no reluctance in fining ordinary citizens for breaches of the rules. For months, Dick appeared not to recognise that her lack of action damaged the Met's standing. Only in recent weeks has she acted and agreed to investigate parties that went on under the noses of her officers.
Spiralling teenage murders
The Met under Dick has faced persistent criticism for its record on violent crime. The capital recorded 30 teenage murders in 2021, with 10,506 recorded knife crime incidents. That is a record high. This is despite Dick telling everyone that tackling violent crime was her 'number one priority.'
In fairness to Commissioner Dick, she has received persistent pressure to reduce stop and search, including from Khan. As Dick pointed out to a deaf Parliamentary committee, "You are four times more likely to be a victim of homicide if you are black and eight times more likely to be a perpetrator." That's why the police stop and search a disproportionate number of black kids.
The politicians opted to play politics with the issue, including Diana Abbott asserting, "All stop and search should stop as racist." I'm assuming that Abbott is content to see the wholesale massacre of black young men. It is notable that none of these purblind politicians offered rational, implementable solutions to the challenges faced by the police.
Mayor Khan seized upon recent accounts of officers sharing racists, misogynistic and other offensive material to demand Dick bring change. Yet, his timing makes me suspicious that his motivations are elsewhere. Remember, he didn't act on failings identified years ago; in fact, he sought Dick's appointment despite her known shortcomings.
What if Labour Party member Khan has acted now for party political reasons given the evolving inquiry against Boris? Indeed Dick's resignation came as a surprise to the Conservative Home Secretary, who also has a role in appointing the Met Commissioner.
Either way, Khan by his actions exposes an unacknowledged truth. All policing is political. Forget the myth of ‘Dickson of Dock Green’ or the pretence of following Peels principles; these are long gone.
So, getting a handle on this issue is difficult. In one camp, Dick is a competent, principled officer attempting to do an impossible job, hemmed in by cynical politicians, both Left and Right, with little idea of the realities of policing.
In the other camp, she is in denial about rampant racism and misogyny that infects all aspects of policing. Thus, her command is corrupt and untenable in their view.
As usual the truth lies somewhere in the muddled middle. Meanwhile, Dick’s departure will change nothing.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.