The writer is an FT contributing editor
The report, published on Tuesday, of the Daniel Morgan independent panel is a remarkable and important document. Its examination of the brutal murder of Morgan, a private investigator, in south London in 1987 was expected to be revealing about the culture of London’s Metropolitan Police in the 1980s and 1990s. But what is sensational is the force of its criticisms of the Met today.
In essence, the panel shows not only how the Metropolitan Police was “institutionally corrupt” then, but also that the force is institutionally corrupt now. Indeed, the conduct of the police in obstructing the independent panel is just as alarming as the more historical examples.
The panel, which comprised experienced criminal justice experts and included former law enforcement professionals, has taken eight years to compile this carefully sourced and methodical report. The document deals with the failure of the five sets of investigations and prosecutions up to 2012. Each one collapsed in unsatisfactory circumstances.
As we go through them one by one, a picture emerges of a police force committed to protecting its own reputation above the public interest. The report shows how at each turn (in its own words) “the Metropolitan Police placed the reputation of the organisation above the need for accountability and transparency”. It details the failings thoroughly, with the panel using the word “corruption” over 700 times in the space of more than 1,200 pages.
Indeed, the report goes further than alleging corruption: it concludes that there has been dishonesty on the part of the UK’s largest police force. It states: “Concealing or denying failings, for the sake of the organisation’s public image, is dishonesty on the part of the organisation for reputational benefit and constitutes a form of institutional corruption.”
What makes the corruption described institutional — rather than the fault of a “few bad apples” — is that the failings referred to occurred at all levels of the organisation, and in investigation after investigation. This cannot be explained by the misconduct of a few unprofessional individuals, but instead is directly related to the culture and practices of the police. In describing the corruption this way, the panel draws a conscious parallel with the 1999 Macpherson report into “institutional racism” in the Met.
Of course, the findings may be ignored or shrugged off. But the sheer accumulation of detail and its methodological rigour mean the report cannot be dismissed.
What makes it of current relevance, rather than a mere historical exercise, is that the operation of the panel was subject to systematic obstruction by the police.
In one remarkable passage, the panel explains that it encountered significant obstruction and that “the contact between the panel and the Metropolitan Police resembled police contact with litigants rather than with a body established by the home secretary to enquire into the case”. The panel was set up in 2013, but the final documents were not received from the police until March 2021.
That the panel was able to produce such a solid report is all the more commendable given that it was not a statutory inquiry and so had no powers to compel documents or witness evidence.
The quality of this report puts the successive investigations into Morgan’s murder to shame. And because the panel’s work has been so thorough, its conclusions will not be easy to avoid. There is a serious institutional corruption problem at the Metropolitan Police, and that cannot now be gainsaid.