Content note for racist, ableist, homophobic dehumanising and misogynistic language that promotes rape, domestic and sexual violence towards women.
A damning report from the police watchdog, The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), made fifteen recommendations to change a fundamentally toxic and harmful and discriminatory culture of bullying, misogyny, racism and discrimination at Charing Cross station in London.
The IPOC report noted that whilst the team identified at Charing Cross had since been disbanded, evidence of similar troubling behaviour appeared in other investigations, adding that such incidents did not exist in isolation or the actions of a few “bad apples”.
The initial investigation began in March 2018 following a “conduct referral” amidst allegations that an officer had sex with a vulnerable woman at the station, which became an internal harassment investigation, according to the IOPC press release, with nine independent investigations ongoing against serving Met officers.
“Banter” was a shield to excuse oppressive behaviours in a toxic environment of hyper-masculinity, misogyny, sexual harassment, discrimination and bullying.
Structural issues – including isolation, shift patterns, the nature of work, supervision and “acting up and unofficial promotions” enabled these horrendous and troubling behaviours.
For the IOPC, it found “an underlying culture allowed conduct issues to permeate and behavioural problems went unchallenged.”
Operation Hotton highlighted examples of a male officer telling a female officer of a desire to rape them. In addition, on WhatsApp, male officers disclosed their use of domestic violence; one officer wrote, “Now I know why these daft c**** are getting murdered by their sp*stic boyfriends,” adding, “Knock a bird about, and she will love you,” which elicited the chilling reply, “LMAO”.
An equally chilling WhatsApp message dehumanised women further – a grotesque comparison described how getting women “into bed” was akin to “spreading butter” made easier with a knife.
A culture of fear stopped more officers from speaking out, and for those who did, challenging such dehumanising, violent misogyny made female officers further targeted. Examples included female officers labelled as “weary women” and told it was part of the culture of policing, which they should accept, to “play the game or stay quiet” or leave — the Operation Hotton Report detailed how the Met were insensitive with internal reports of sexual harassment. Other officers described an “us versus them” siege mentality – with complainants marginalised as “grasses”.
Black and Asian officers informed the IOPC of their ostracisation from white colleagues as the toxic culture of discriminatory, homophobic, ableist, racist, and debasing targeting of non-Christian faiths, including Islam, appeared throughout the report.
Racist, anti-Black statements included referring to innocent Black men as “robbers”, and one officer dehumanised Somali communities by referring to them as “rats” – and boasted of assaulting a Somali individual. Further examples of anti-Black racism included the abhorrent statement, “PWPEHCLM – People with pre-existing heart conditions lives matter. Should of offered him a kit kat and a nice lie down. Murdering c****.” During the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin and their subsequent murder conviction for the killing of George Floyd, a central pillar of his defence relied upon centuries of racist, anti-Black stereotypes, including the false narrative that George Floyd’s death resulted instead from underlying heart issues. Another message highlighted by the IOPC included an officer stating that an uncle had kidnapped “some African children and used them to make dog food.”
Communications of an anti-Muslim and Islamophobic nature included, “Just walked past the big mosque all the fanatics turn up at to radicalise the young muslims….”
In an example of Holocaust minimisation and trivialisation, where an officer scoffed at dealing with flies in their apartment, described how they “got the fly spray and turned my gaff into Auschwitz”.
Whereas examples of normalised ableism included the use of the R-word. Messages of a homophobic nature included the slur “bender”.
The IOPC investigated fourteen police officers – with two dismissed for gross misconduct and barred from policing. Two officers resigned and two others were disciplined.
Further, into the report, the IOPC noted that the evidence further supported the picture of unfair treatment of Black, Asian, and ethnic minority groups – further compounding low confidence in policing. The report calls for the Met Police to address such harmful and discriminatory behaviours and set “clear standards that this is unacceptable”. In addition, they spoke of their deep concern that such communications “may reflect officers attitudes and their ability to police communities sensitivity and impartially”.
For the IOPC, the seriousness and frequency of failures to challenge these harmful remarks pointed to a “systemic cultural issue that allowed the behaviour to pervade and persist” and, therefore, they called on the Met Police to take a zero-tolerance approach to discrimination publicly, and weed out these behaviours and cultures to help restore public trust.
One recommendation called for a review of policies, training and guidance on bullying and harassment to “adequately cover” the harms of toxic masculinity and misogyny foster an intimidating, degrading and hostile environment for women.
Regarding structural racism, the IOPC called on the Met Police to eradicate racism and make progress from the recommendations of the Macpherson Report and demonstrably measure improvements and publicly state its aim to be an anti-racist organisation with a zero-tolerance approach to the issue. The Macpherson Report, published in 1999 in response to the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence, highlighted institutional racism within the Met Police, which they defined as the “collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin.” Which, the report concluded, emerge in “processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people.”
The tenth anniversary of the watershed report revealed that the Home Office had “partly or fully implemented” 67 of the 70 recommendations. In July 2021, a House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee report on racism in policing 22 years after Macpherson revealed disproportionately in policies like stop and search powers to the continued representation of minorities in policing reflective of communities they serve. The College of Policing also published its findings last year.
Following the publication of the Operation Hotton report, Regional Director for London at the IOPC, Sal Naseem, said: “The behaviour we uncovered was disgraceful and fell well below the standards expected of the officers involved.
“While these officers predominantly worked in teams in Westminster, which have since been disbanded, we know from other recent cases that these issues are not isolated or historic.”
Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Met Police Bas Javid said: “I am angry and disappointed to see officers involved in sharing sexist, racist and discriminatory messages. It’s clear we have a lot of work to do to ensure bullying and discrimination does not exist in any part of the Met.”
Responding to the report on Twitter, Sunita Gablim QPM from Police Now wrote: “Diversity, equality and inclusion should be everyone’s priority. Its deeply upsetting reading this report on Operation Hooton, it propels me to continue to promote and improve DEI in policing. We must call out these cultures.”
President of the National Black Police Association in the UK, Andy George, advocated replicating policing reforms enacted across policing in Northern Ireland across Great Britain, noting that “legislative measures put accountability on leaders and, more importantly, at a local level.”