Watchdog uncovers ‘disgraceful’ culture within London police and demands change

The police watchdog has demanded sweeping changes to the culture of London’s Metropolitan Police after an investigation uncovered “shocking” evidence of pervasive and persistent bullying, misogyny, homophobia and racism within the force.

The report by the Independent Office for Police Conduct in England and Wales, published on Tuesday, noted a culture of highly sexualized, violent and discriminatory “banter” among Met officers, linked to “toxic masculinity, misogyny and sexual harassment”.

Of the 14 officers investigated, two were dismissed for gross misconduct, while another four faced hearings. A fifth resigned rather than face a hearing. The findings of Operation Hotton focused on constables mainly based at central London’s Charing Cross police station.

The inquiry is the latest blow to the reputation of the Met following a series of revelations about problems within police culture after the rape and murder of Sarah Everard in 2021 by a serving officer, Wayne Couzens.

The force also faced severe criticism in December after an inquest found that three of the four killings by Stephen Port, a serial killer of young gay men, could have been avoided if officers had investigated the cases properly.

Sal Naseem, IOPC regional director for London and South England, said the behavior uncovered was “disgraceful” and fell “well below the standards expected of the officers involved”.

The report was “shocking” and contained language that was offensive, he added.

“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,” Naseem said.

The Operation Hotton investigation started in March 2018 after an officer was accused of having sex in a police station with a drunk woman, which led the IOPC to take over an internal Met harassment investigation.

The report said the team at Charing Cross, where the IOPC had identified these problems, was now disbanded but while noting evidence of similar behavior in subsequent investigations.

“We believe these incidents are not isolated or simply the behavior of a few ‘bad apples’,” the report said.

The watchdog found officers referred in messages to beating their wives and partners, while one mentioned the use of steroids. Many of the exchanges shared by officers were sexist, while others were homophobic and racist, it noted.

The IOPC made 15 recommendations, including rules on challenging and reporting improper conduct among other improvements to the force’s wider culture.

Bas Javid, the Met’s deputy assistant commissioner for professional standards, said he was “angry and disappointed” by the report’s findings.

The actions of the officers between 2016 and 2018 had been “unacceptable, unprofessional, disrespectful and deeply offensive”, he noted.

“I read their messages with increasing disgust and shame,” he said, adding that the force had taken action, including the misconduct and gross misconduct hearings and speaking to staff about responsible use of social media.

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