Cressida Dick: the scandal-hit chief stepping down from Met Police

Commissioner resigns amid allegations she failed to stem culture of misogyny and racism

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick
(Image credit: Gareth Fuller/WPA Pool/Getty Images)

The head of London’s police force has resigned after London mayor Sadiq Khan put her “on notice” over a “return to the bad days of the Met of his childhood in the 1970s and 80s”.

Cressida Dick said she was left with “no choice” but to step down from her £230,000 a year role after it became “clear that the Mayor no longer has sufficient confidence in my leadership to continue”. She added that “undertaking this role as a servant of the people of London and the UK has been the greatest honour and privilege of my life”.

Dick’s tenure as the head of the Metropolitan Police has been marked by “several controversies”, The Telegraph said, which critics have suggested “pointed to a rotten culture” within the country’s largest police force.

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Controversies before top job

Dick faced repeated calls for her resignation during her five years in the top job, with critics blaming her for the erosion of public trust in forces across the UK.

The daughter of an Oxford philosopher father and historian mother, Oxbridge graduate Dick was “embroiled in a string of controversies” at the Met long before she was appointed commissioner, the Daily Mail reported last year.

She was the commander in charge of the team that shot 27-year-old electrician Jean Charles de Menezes seven times in the head at Stockwell tube station in 2005, after police marksmen mistook him for a suicide bomber.

She also sanctioned the creation of Operation Midland in 2014, the Met’s investigation into “spurious” allegations of a VIP child-abuse ring, said the paper.

An inquiry uncovered more than 40 failings in the police operation, and the force was later made to pay compensation to several people whose reputations were damaged as a result of the investigation.

Appointed in 2017

When Dick was named the first female commissioner of the Met in 2017, The Guardian’s Vikram Dodd described her as “tough and resilient”. “Those who are fans love ‘Cress’, as she is known, in a fever of adulation rarely bestowed on a police chief,” he wrote.

She had won praise for her “coolness under pressure, personal warmth and compassion” throughout her three-decade career, he added, and had “a wealth of operational experience and achievement unsurpassed by previous commissioners”.

Her appointment as Met boss was a “significant moment” in the force’s 188-year history, said The Telegraph. “But a series of crises – many of which were beyond her control – have conspired to tarnish her time in post and frustrate her agenda,” the paper added.

Her first day as commissioner was just weeks after the murder of PC Keith Palmer during a terrorist attack on Parliament. Four more terrorist attacks on London followed in the next six months, claiming a total of 31 lives.

Since then, Dick has faced criticism for failing to drive down violent crime in the capital, with homicides hitting the highest level in a decade in 2019.

She has also been slated over efforts to crack down on violent crime through the use of stop and search.

And critics turned on Dick again in 2020, after she urged Home Secretary Priti Patel to use the Extinction Rebellion protests as a “much-needed” opportunity to change laws on demonstrations, in a letter seen by openDemocracy.

Sarah Everard vigil

One of Dick’s worst PR disasters was triggered by the Met’s response to a peaceful vigil in memory of Sarah Everard, who was murdered by a serving PC in March last year. Images of the vigil, in Clapham Common, made for “worrying viewing” and showed women being “forcibly removed” by police, said The Times.

Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey subsequently shared a letter to Dick on social media calling for her to step down. “Cressida Dick has lost the confidence of the millions of women in London and should resign,” he tweeted.

Two reviews were launched into the policing of the vigil: one commissioned by the home secretary, and the other by Boris Johnson and led by Dick.

The Guardian said Dick was “walking a tightrope” as public anger mounted, but she kept her job, earning her the nickname of “Comeback Cressida”. A senior Downing Street source told Politico’s London Playbook at the time that Dick retained the “full confidence” of the prime minister.

She faced yet more resignation calls following the sentencing of Everard’s killer, Met officer Wayne Couzens, last September. Mandu Reid, leader of the British Women’s Equality Party, was among those calling for Dick to go.

However, Reid warned in an article for Grazia magazine that “it is almost too easy to focus our anger on one figurehead” and that removing Dick would “not address the fact that there are systemic and institutional problems in our flagship police force and a complete lack of political will that fails to make ending violence against women and girls a priority”.

Euro 2020 and Daniel Morgan

Dick was awarded a damehood in 2019 in Theresa May’s resignation honours. And last July, the police chief was made dame commander by the Prince of Wales in recognition of her public service.

The latest honour was handed over on the same day that Dick backed her officers over their handling of crowds at the Euro 2020 final at Wembley. After thousands of ticketless fans managed to storm into the stadium, a review “found there were a series of ‘near misses’ among crowds which could have led to significant injuries or even death”, said the i news site.

Dick had faced further criticism weeks earlier after an independent panel investigating the Met’s handling of the 1987 murder of private investigator Daniel Morgan described the force as “institutionally corrupt”.

The panel said that Dick repeatedly denied them “access to an internal police database without satisfactory explanation over a period of seven years”, the i reported.

Sue Gray report

Sue Gray’s report into lockdown-breaching parties at No. 10 quickly became “the latest chapter in Dame Cressida’s eventful stint as London’s top police officer”, said Anne McElvoy in the Evening Standard.

The force initially ruled out a Met investigation into the “partygate” allegations, stating that officers “do not normally investigate breaches of coronavirus regulations when they are reported long after they are said to have taken place”. Dick then rowed back on the decision, announcing that the force was looking into “potential breaches of Covid-19 regulations” in Downing Street and Whitehall since 2020.

Dick’s decision to launch the Met’s probe delayed the much-anticipated publication of Gray’s report, after the top civil servant was asked to make “minimal reference” to the events being investigated by the force. Following Dick’s last-minute intervention, MPs accused her of presiding over a “stitch-up” and a “farce”, reported the Financial Times.

“A stitch-up between the Met leadership and No. 10 will damage our politics for generations and it looks like it is happening right in front of our eyes,” said Lib Dem leader Davey.

Contract extended

Amid growing anger over the partygate row, sources told the BBC that Patel considered going through the civil service recruitment process to find a replacement for Dick last year, during the fallout from the policing at Everard’s vigil.

Patel was reportedly “overruled” by Downing Street and a decision was made to extend Dick’s contract for two more years. Dick said she was “honoured and humbled” to remain in the post.

A panel of victims of “police corruption, incompetence and malpractice”, led by Stephen Lawrence’s mother, Doreen, signed what the Daily Mail described as a “bombshell” letter to the PM calling for Dick’s contract not to be extended.

The letter said that Dick had “presided over a culture of incompetence and cover-up” and called for her to be “properly investigated for her conduct, along with her predecessors and those in her inner circle, who she appointed and who have questions to answer”.

But her luck ran out when London mayor Khan demanded a plan from the police commissioner on how the force would “win back the trust and confidence” of the public.

He said he was “disgusted and angry” about the litany of police failings that has come to light in recent months, and was therefore prepared to “take action” against Dick unless she offered a convincing plan to restore the public’s “knocked and shattered” confidence.

Her departure has proven no less controversial than her tenure in the job, with Khan “reportedly not informing the Home Secretary of developments”, The Telegraph reported.

Home Office officials will “press City Hall for an explanation surrounding the departure”, which led to Khan being accused of “political opportunism” and “grandstanding”.

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