Are Cressida Dick’s days as Met commissioner numbered?
Police chief faces calls to resign after heavy-handed response to Sarah Everard vigil
The recent history of the Metropolitan Police is strewn with complaints about overzealous policing of protests. From Black Lives Matter demonstrations to Extinction Rebellion shutdowns, the force has come under intense scrutiny over its approach to such gatherings.
But rarely has the condemnation of the Met been as united as in the fallout from Saturday’s heavy-handed response to the vigil on Clapham Common for Sarah Everard, the murdered 33-year-old marketing executive.
The blame has fallen on Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick, who hit out at “armchair critics” of officers making “really difficult calls”. The controversy is not the first in Dick’s career, leading to suggestions that the powerful images from the event may make it her last.
Boris Johnson said he was “deeply concerned” over the police response to the peaceful vigil and will hold urgent talks with ministers, senior police officers and the Crown Prosecution Service today.
Two reviews have been launched into the policing of the event, one commissioned by the prime minister to be led by Dick and another so-called “lessons learned” review by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, commissioned by Home Secretary Priti Patel.
“Images of the police response have made for worrying viewing,” The Times says in a leader column, with women “forcibly removed from the bandstand at the centre of the vigil”. The response was “utterly tone deaf”, The Sun adds in a condemnatory leader. While lockdown restrictions have caused “difficulties” for officers, “how on earth did police find themselves forcibly restraining peaceful women mourners?” the paper asks.
Despite the criticism, it looks unlikely, for now at least, that Dick will be forced from her post. A senior Downing Street source told Politico’s London Playbook that Dick retained the “full confidence” of the prime minister. And Dick has remained unrepentant, “defending what happened to the max”, Politico’s Alex Wickham adds.
‘String of controversies’
When Dick was named in 2017 as the first female commissioner of the Met, “it was a significant moment” in the force’s 188-year history, The Telegraph says. “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 adds.
Her first day as commissioner came just weeks after the murder of PC Keith Palmer during a terrorist attack on parliament. Four more terrorist attacks on London would follow in the next six months, leaving 31 people dead. She has also faced criticism for the use of stop-and-search and a failure to drive down violent crime in the capital, with 2019 marking the highest number of violent killings in a decade.
But not every crisis has been beyond her control and Dick had been “embroiled in a string of controversies” long before she took up the top job, the Daily Mail reports.
In 2005 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, after police marksmen mistook him for a suicide bomber. And she sanctioned the “disastrous” Operation Midland in 2014, the Met’s investigation into “spurious” allegations of a VIP child-abuse ring, added the paper.
More recently, Dick came under fire after writing to the home secretary to urge her to use last summer’s Extinction Rebellion protests as a “much-needed” opportunity to change the law around protests, in a letter seen by openDemocracy.
But despite controversies that have impacted her leadership, The Guardian says she remains an “intellectually self-confident” commissioner, whose 30-year career and “wealth of operational experience” that “impresses the rank-and-file”.
For now, the prime minister is backing Dick. But several senior Tory MPs and ministers are “privately highly critical” of the commissioner, with a “couple” supporting her resignation, Politico’s Wickham reports. Others, however, told Wickham the vigil had been “hijacked by lefties and extremists”, adding that “the police had to enforce coronavirus restrictions”.
Some papers are slightly more sympathetic to the officers on the ground, if not Dick, with The Telegraph suggesting that the force was put in a “quandary by politicians who wanted to be seen to be on the side of the demonstrators while declining to accept that the gathering was unlawful”.
However, London Mayor Sadiq Khan had the strongest words for Dick, saying he was “not satisfied with the explanation provided” after summoning her to City Hall on Sunday to explain the police’s actions in Clapham.