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Thursday, June 30, 2022

Police scandals and political scrutiny hastened exit of Cressida Dick | Cressida Dick

Given Cressida Dick’s time as a senior Met police officer has been so frequently marked by controversy and political scrutiny, it is perhaps unsurprising that her early departure as commissioner came as she faced unprecedented amounts of both.

Beyond the hugely damaging revelations about misogyny, racism and other prejudice among Met ranks that hastened her exit on Thursday, Dick is also currently responsible for one of the most politically sensitive investigations in UK police history; one that could decide the fate of a prime minister.

It was only a day earlier that the Met announced it had sent legal questionnaires seeking details about alleged lockdown-breaching parties to more than 50 people in Downing Street and Whitehall. Although the statement did not make this explicit, one of them will be Boris Johnson.

Hours before the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, announced Dick had lost his confidence and would be departing, the commissioner was telling listeners to BBC Radio London that some of the recipients of the questionnaires “may very well end up with a fixed penalty notice”.

'No choice but to step aside': Cressida Dick resigns as Met police chief – video
‘No choice but to step aside’: Cressida Dick resigns as Met police chief – video

While Johnson’s fate is ultimately in the hands of his own MPs, Dick will be excruciatingly aware that deciding that significant numbers inside No 10 broke the law, particularly if one of them is Johnson, could be the catalyst in pushing him out.

Dick is to stay in her role for what is described as “a short period” while a new commissioner is appointed. If that period includes a definitive verdict on the investigation, it will be quite the parting shot; if the investigation lingers it will be the hottest of political potatoes to pass to a successor.

The paradox of this final task is that Dick will be helping adjudicate on the future of Johnson, a key supporter, who is known not to share Khan’s desire for a new head of the UK’s biggest and most high-profile police force.

In September the home secretary, Priti Patel, who has ultimate responsibility for the role, announced she had extended Dick’s five-year term for another 24 months, being unconvinced that any prospective successors were ready.

The fact that Patel has now decided to not stand in the way of a change of commissioner – an almost lukewarm statement from the home secretary said Dick had faced “challenging times” – could spark speculation that ministers would prefer a new and perhaps less bullish Met chief to decide on the parties.

Whoever takes over faces the huge task of winning back the confidence of both Khan and many Londoners following a series of damaging events.

A number of MPs called for Dick to resign in March last year after her officers arrested women taking part in a vigil for Sarah Everard after her murder by one of their colleagues.

While Dick has made efforts to change the force’s culture, she has been battered by revelations such as the release earlier this month of messages exchanged between Met officers about hitting and raping women, as well as about the deaths of black babies and the Holocaust.

The newcomer will face the same pressures, but unlike Dick they will not face the immediate scrutiny of having presided over the shooting dead of an innocent Londoner, as happened to Jean Charles de Menezes, a 27-year-old electrician killed in a botched 2005 anti-terror operation that she led.

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