Lessons Learned

Wail Qasim

Cressida Dick is replacing Bernard Hogan-Howe as the Metropolitan Police commissioner. She is the first woman to hold the post in its 200-year history, which has spurred hope that she will reform the Met in a period of uncertainty and strain. The budgetry perils the force faces are real: Hogan-Howe said recently that his successor’s biggest challenge would be ‘money’. But Dick has another problem too. She was the senior officer in charge during the 2005 operation in which Jean Charles de Menezes was killed. Firearms officers emptied eight rounds into the Brazilian electrician at Stockwell tube station after wrongly suspecting him to be a suicide bomber.

Dick told the Old Bailey in 2007 that her order was simply to ‘stop’ de Menezes, expecting armed officers would employ a ‘conventional challenge’. But this order came soon after the July 2005 bombings, when firearms officers were told that ‘if they were deployed to intercept a subject and there was an opportunity to challenge but the subject was non-compliant a critical shot could be taken.’

‘If you ask me whether I think anybody did anything wrong or unreasonable on the operation,’ Dick told a coroner’s inquest in 2008, ‘I don’t think they did.’ The jury did not agree and refused to find a verdict of lawful killing, instead opting for an open verdict – the coroner, Sir Michael Wright, had ruled out a verdict of unlawful killing.

Dick’s appointment as Met commissioner has been accompanied by an all too familiar chorus about ‘lessons learned’. The home secretary, Amber Rudd, described her as an ‘exceptional leader’. London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, praised her ‘long and distinguished career’. When it comes to policing, learning lessons is an easy alternative to the form of redress we might otherwise call justice. In September 2006, only a year after de Menezes’s death, Dick had learned enough to be promoted. She was awarded medals in 2009 and 2015.

Her appointment implies that impunity runs from bottom to top of Britain’s police forces. Since 1990 in England and Wales there have been nearly 1600 deaths in police custody or otherwise following contact with police. No officers have been convicted. De Menezes’s family urged the mayor and home secretary earlier this month ‘not to be party to sending to our family and to the people of London a message that those in power can set aside such a dark stain on the record of the Metropolitan police force’. It seems they were willing to do exactly that.