Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC - formerly IPCC)
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IOPC recommendations to tackle Met culture after investigation uncovers bullying and harassment in the ranks

We yesterday published a wide ranging recommendations made to the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) to change policing practice after nine linked investigations found evidence of bullying and discrimination within the ranks.

Other inappropriate behaviour by officers, including, racism, misogyny, harassment and the exchange of offensive social media messages, is also highlighted in a learning report we are now publishing from our Operation Hotton investigations. The investigations focused on teams formed to tackle crime and disorder in the Westminster area and were expanded after officers came forward to report concerns about the conduct of colleagues.

The 15 recommendations we have made seek to tackle underlying cultural issues by preventing environments from developing in which unprofessional and inappropriate behaviour can thrive and go unchallenged. Included are recommendations for the MPS to publicly commit to being an anti-racist organisation with a zero-tolerance policy towards sexism, misogyny, bullying and harassment.

We began our investigations in March 2018 following a conduct referral alleging that an officer had sex with a drunk person at a police station. That led to us taking over an internal harassment investigation. As the operation expanded concerns were identified involving officers predominantly based at Charing Cross Police Station. Officers responded after we made a witness appeal within the MPS seeking evidence in relation to bullying, violence towards women, perverting the course of justice, discriminatory language and other inappropriate behaviours.

IOPC Regional Director Sal Naseem yesterday said:

“The behaviour we uncovered was disgraceful and fell well below the standards expected of the officers involved. While these officers predominantly worked in teams in Westminster, which have since been disbanded, we know from other recent cases that these issues are not isolated or historic.  

“We acknowledge work carried out by the Met to tackle these problems, including its Rebuilding Trust plan focusing on standards, culture and women’s safety; the strengthening of its whistleblowing line; and the STRIDE 25 strategy and action plan for inclusion, diversity and engagement. MPS culture and standards of behaviour are also subject to a formal review by Baroness Casey of Blackstock. 

“While we welcome these steps, more is required.

“Our recommendations focus on the identified cultural issues and aim to ensure that those who work for the force feel safe with their colleagues, and that communities feel safe with those whose job is to protect them. The MPS has to enjoy the trust and confidence of its own officers from diverse communities before it can hope to bridge the gap in trust and confidence with the communities it serves.

“The learning report we are publishing today is shocking and contains language which is offensive – and some may find it upsetting. However, we felt it was important to provide the context for the public, the Met and other forces, for why such hard hitting recommendations are necessary.”  

During our investigations, from which proceedings concluded in September last year (2021) we reviewed thousands of messages exchanged by officers, including many which were highly sexualised, discriminatory or referred to violence. These were generally described as banter by officers in their defence.

Mr Naseem continued:

“Our investigation showed the officers’ use of ‘banter’ became a cover for bullying and harassment. Colleagues were afraid to speak out about these behaviours for fear of being ostracised, demeaned or told to get another job.

“We are grateful to those officers who were brave enough to speak to us about the cultural issues that existed within these teams, realising that in doing so they risked further bullying. This took courage. Hopefully our learning report and recommendations will give officers the confidence to come forward in the knowledge that people are listening and that changes will be made.

“The relationship between the police and the public is critical to maintaining the principle of policing by consent. The concerns about behaviour and culture addressed in our report, if allowed to continue and go unchallenged, risked causing serious damage to that relationship.” 

During our investigation 14 officers were put under notice that they were being investigated. Two officers were dismissed for gross misconduct and put on the barred list preventing future employment with the police. One of the officers resigned prior to these hearings. A further four officers attended misconduct meetings and a fifth would have attended a misconduct meeting had they not resigned from the force. A further two officers received management action and another officer received practice requiring improvement. One of the officers who attended a misconduct meeting also received practice requiring improvement.

Many of the inappropriate messages we found were exchanged on social media platforms. We have previously highlighted concerns about inappropriate use of social media platforms by police officers. We wrote to the National Police Chiefs Council in April last year asking them to remind forces and officers of their obligations under the police Code of Ethics and Standards of Professional Behaviour. 

Our learning report and recommendations can be found here. We have also published a summary of the individual Operation Hotton investigations and their outcomes on the investigation summaries and learning recommendations section of our website.


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