Corruption News

Those who knew or could have known | Ben Lewis


The Metropolitan Police has said it will be “be relentless in [their] pursuit of those engaged in corrupt or criminal behaviour”. Quite rightly, too. One bad apple is three too many, and the first of 2023 may have been outed only sixteen days into the year. Only the most extraordinarily credulous person could think he will be the last to emerge in the Year of Grace 2,023.

The error the Met is making here should be obvious. So obvious, that its failure to mention it in press statements leaves me deeply concerned that the Met doesn’t see it. That sentence should have been written as “relentless in our pursuit of those engaged in corrupt or criminal behaviour and equally relentless in pursuing those who failed to spot it, or speak up about it, in the past”. 

The public sector is allergic to the idea of an incompetent employee

Serious corruption very rarely occurs in total isolation — the peculiar case of “Honest Dick” Tate in Kentucky, 1867, is memorable because it was one of those rare exceptions. Even the most useless of organisations will usually have some internal controls, so it requires not just a corrupted individual, but also a failure of those operating those controls, for it to happen. The controls at the Met demonstrably failed. The Met is useless; this is now all but an accepted fact, but it does pretend to have internal controls — and indeed, the Directorate of Professional Standards does catch the odd bad actor. So those controls can work, if those involved want them to and put their brains into gear.

That failure stretches back to before Carrick was even a police officer. Somehow, entirely inexplicably, the police failed to notice in 2001, when he was being vetted to actually join the force, that he was linked to alleged offences of malicious communication and burglary from the previous year. The warning signs were already there, too, that he had a problematic approach to women: in both cases the victim was his former partner. Even the Met acknowledges, now, two decades two late, that he “refused to accept the end of their relationship”. Quite the warning sign to attach to someone the state will issue a warrant card to.

Even if we assume, for argument’s sake, that those allegations were just that (I am wholly unwilling to assume this in actuality, and to its limited credit neither is the Met), this should still have been an air-raid siren. In 2002, Carrick was the subject of another accusation: this time that he had harassed a different former partner. Notice this is 2002, not 2022. Someone at the Met dropped the ball here and missed an opportunity to stop his crimes a second time. A missed air-raid siren, and now an actual missed incident before the institution’s very eyes.

This is where the corruption and the failure truly begins, because the internal control that should have caught the misdemeanant early had failed. The rest then follows. The Metropolitan Police does admit that the 2002 incident, and another in 2004, were not referred to the Directorate of Professional Standards. The question, therefore, is why?

Why another opportunity to intervene was missed in 2004 only adds to the argument, that unless the police is as vigorous in pursuing those who failed to spot corruption and criminality in its ranks as it now seems to be at finding the bad apples itself, everything will happen again.

There is a second reason why the failure to catch Carrick early needs rapid, detailed, investigation. Only by doing so will we be able to find the others who have almost certainly been missed — or worse, actively covered up. I don’t know — no one does, yet — if there was a cover-up here, but little really turns on that. A person responsible for administering internal controls (be they financial or, in this case, a lot more serious) is not suddenly off the hook solely because they are incompetent. We also shouldn’t shy away from the term; “incompetence” is not a dirty word. incompetence. It accurately describes a member of the public or private sectors who fails at their job.

As the investigation meanders on, it is more than likely to decide that, despite the ample, glaring warning signs, there was no way the police could have spotted this bad apple in its ranks. The IOPC are already hinting as much. This will simply not hold up to scrutiny given the 2019 allegation, but it will be said anyway. It always is so — the obvious is always totally invisible and undetectable in the public sector, especially the police, until forced into the light. 

Eventually some investigation will decide no one is to blame and then fail to also analyse whether anyone was not blameworthy but simply incompetent. The police is not unique on this latter problem: the wider public sector is allergic to the idea that any employee may not be sufficiently competent to do their job correctly. As a result, the next Carrick will remain undetected — not because of corruption, per se, but because incompetent officials who should be removed will carry on being useless.

Officers have been removed for much less than Carrick could have been

The 2019 allegation — that of an assault reported to Hertfordshire Constabulary — bears a second look, though. Even if every single previous moment to catch Carrick had truly been impossible to spot, this was the moment. A serving police officer was accused of domestic violence. That should immediately be a red flag so large it can be seen from outer space. Instead, the Met — and this can only be due to cataclysmic incompetence or actual venal corruption — gave him “words of advice” on reporting incidents to his “chain of command”. In other words, “next time tell us when another police force is investigating you, now off you go”. Cataclysmic incompetence is the good outcome for the Met, here.

This is hardly the behaviour of a police force determined to stamp out corruption and criminality. The Met’s excuse for failing here is especially weak: because no charges were brought, that almost automatically means there is no case to answer in disciplinary proceedings. The Met urgently needs to ascertain who made that defective decision and remove them from any decision making process. They are clearly not competent.

I couldn’t say what threshold must be met to initiate disciplinary proceedings, but I know what it ought to be, given the exceptionally powerful place of the police in society. Not only should any criminal charge trigger proceedings, but also any pattern of alleged criminal behaviour as well. That said, this is no defence for the Metropolitan Police. It had so many opportunities over two decades to first not employ Carrick, then to catch him early, then to catch him two years earlier than it did. It beggars belief that the Met so comprehensively failed. Officers have been removed for much less than he could have been accused of at almost every turn. They either didn’t want to or, more likely, simply failed to.

That’s the institution, which is probably — nay, hopefully — just incompetent. As for the people, we do not yet know if others suspected him of being a bad apple. We need to find out. A police officer, junior, senior or anything in between who knows a fellow officer is corrupt, a criminal or just plain nasty, needs to understand that basic morality requires they speak up. It’s immaterial whether the law requires them to — — and it should, if it doesn’t already. To sit next to someone wearing the uniform, knowing they’re a bad apple is to be one yourself. There is no excuse. For attorneys in the US, we can even find a judicial precedent in this regard. In Re Himmel [125 Ill.2d 531] held that it was lawful to suspend an attorney who failed to report another attorney’s misconduct. The same argument should apply to the police, possibly with even greater force.

So, I say this to the Met. As an institution, have the bravery to find the incompetence (or, worse, the systematic corruption) that meant Carrick’s appalling crimes went unpunished for twenty years. Have the bravery to actually say that an employee or employees failed to competently do their jobs. Don’t name them, if you want to avoid a putative lawsuit — just admit they exist. Have the institutional bravery to admit your systems failed to protect the very people you supposedly serve from a bad actor in your midst. Have the institutional confidence to propose changes, including penalties for incompetence, which will prevent a repeat of this.

To the officers in the Met: if you knew and said nothing over those two decades, have the personal honour to speak up now and face the consequences of your silence. You might just encourage someone to speak up earlier next time — in 2023, perhaps, not 2043.

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