Podium: John Stevens: The deep roots of police corruption

From a speech by the Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police to a conference at the London School of Economics
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CLEARLY, THE events of the last 18 months have left the Met somewhat battered and bruised. But the Met is a can-do organisation. We have a clear agenda for change brought about by such factors as the new Mayor and the Metropolitan Police Authority, the Macpherson report, corruption and the Crime and Disorder Act. The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) will learn from its mistakes, and it will rise to these challenges.

One of the success stories I want to concentrate on is the corruption and dishonesty prevention strategy that the Metropolitan Police launched last December. It is acknowledged to be the best in the world. The strategy impacts on all aspects of our work.

But first a bit of history. Between 1960 and today there have been several high-profile corruption scandals within the Met that have attracted wide publicity and dented confidence. The infrequent recurrence of these episodes had led us to believe that our corruption was cyclical in nature. As a result we deployed substantial resources to "cure" each outbreak, in the belief that the problem would then be solved.

Concerns were again raised about five years ago, when our criminal intelligence branch noted that several of our major crime operations had been compromised, and intelligence suggested that corruption had been a major factor. This gave an uncomfortable indication that organised crime had infiltrated our ranks.

We now realise that while we did deal with the "rotten apples", the approach did not destroy the tree from which they had been picked. This meant that a new batch of rotten apples could grow in another season. It was decided that a change in approach was necessary, and a secret unit was created in order to produce a strategic intelligence picture of corruption in the Met.

This unit functioned for several years; its existence was known only to a handful of senior officers. It produced persuasive intelligence that we had a comparatively small number of police officers who were thoroughly corrupt.

The worrying outcome of this intelligence was the realisation that those officers had forged partnerships with major criminals with whom they were engaged in the most serious of offences - armed robbery, drugs supply and importation at the highest level, as well as major thefts and a willingness to undermine the foundations of the criminal justice system. So, although their numbers were small, the impact they had was significant.

Following on from the intelligence-gathering operation, we injected significant resources into a new command known as the anti-corruption squad. We recognised that high-quality investigators were necessary. We also developed a programme of integrity-testing as a further investigative tool to be used against targeted officers.

Fundamental to our approach is innovation, to keep one step ahead of these sophisticated corrupt detectives.

Our overriding objective is to secure evidence to place the corrupt before the criminal courts. If we fail to meet this requirement, we will pursue discipline charges to seek dismissal from the service. As from 1 April this year, the standard of proof for disciplinary proceedings has been reduced from the standard of "beyond reasonable doubt", which will ease that problem.

While we target and pursue the corrupt officers, another important part of our strategy is to target the corrupters. We have had significant success in this area, and have succeeded in gaining lengthy custodial sentences for quality criminals who involve themselves in corruption. The current round of inquiries has led to more than 50 persons being charged. This number includes 25 police officers, 10 ex-police officers and 20 other people, who include customs officials, lawyers, members of the Crown Prosecution service and members of the criminal fraternity.

And there are more to come.

We are effectively engaged in a major stable-clearing exercise and are determined that this is not seen as a quick "cure". The tree on which the poisonous fruit grows must be tackled, and to this end we have now created a dynamic corruption and dishonesty prevention strategy. The aim of the strategy is to engender pride and trust in the integrity of the Metropolitan Police Service by preventing and detecting corruption, dishonesty and unethical behaviour.

The Metropolitan Police is a proud and historic organisation, and our drive against corruption is good news: we found it, and we are dealing with it ruthlessly. Integrity is non-negotiable. The public has every right to expect a police service that is of the highest integrity.