Something rotten in the Metropolitan Police: Corrupt officers may escape justice, thanks to mass shredding of evidence

MPs condemn force as ‘out-and-out disgrace’ as Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe announces investigation into 1987 murder of whistleblower could be re-opened

The head of the Metropolitan Police has admitted that rogue and corrupt officers may evade justice because of the “mass-shredding” of sensitive corruption files held by Scotland Yard.

Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe suggested the decision to destroy a “lorry-load” of intelligence from an investigation into criminality inside the Met was wrong and said such a decision would now only be taken at a very senior level, throwing the spotlight back on his predecessors Lord Stevens and Lord Blair.

During a fractious appearance in front of the Home Affairs Select Committee, Britain’s most senior police officer professed ignorance across a wide range of embarrassing issues for the Met – including which of his current top team wrongly gave Scotland Yard a clean bill of health regarding corruption in the Stephen Lawrence murder inquiry two years ago.

With his force facing allegations of a cover-up since a damning review into the Lawrence murder was published earlier this month, Sir Bernard also revealed the force was attempting to open a new investigation into the notorious unsolved murder of Daniel Morgan, a private investigator who is said to have been killed just as he was about to blow the whistle on police corruption back in 1987.

His brother, Alastair, who has campaigned for 27 years to bring Mr Morgan’s killers to justice, looked on as Sir Bernard was questioned repeatedly about the destruction of intelligence from Operation Othona – a four-year investigation into police corruption, going into the Nineties, which may have contained clues about Mr Morgan’s murder.

MPs described the current situation as “terrible”, “shocking” and an “out-and-out disgrace” as they ridiculed reports, purportedly emanating from Scotland Yard sources, that suggested the “mass-shredding” of some of the Met’s most sensitive files was due to the force’s attempt to comply with data protection law. The MP Michael Ellis asked: “Do you think the loss of this material will affect the prosecutions of police officers?”

Sir Bernard replied: “It is difficult to say … it may have an impact, I can’t be sure.” Asked if he would authorise the “mass shredding” of such files, he said bluntly: “I would expect to keep it.” He also said that such a decision now would have to be taken at deputy commissioner level or above, raising pressure on Lord Blair and Lord Stevens, who were in charge at the time.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe gives evidence to the Commons Home Affairs Committee (PA) Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe gives evidence to the Commons Home Affairs Committee (PA)
Nicola Blackwood  also questioned the police chief over a discredited Scotland Yard review of the Stephen Lawrence case published under his watch in 2012, which failed to mention the destruction of Operation Othona.

David Hurley, the detective superintendent who led the review, has since claimed he had “no control” over the “editorial content” which was turned over to unspecified “senior officers” in the final analysis. Sir Bernard apologised for the review and said he did not know which senior officers were in charge of Mr Hurley’s work, which he agreed to disclose to the committee along with many other highly sensitive Met reports into police corruption, including Operation Tiberius, details of which were revealed by The Independent in January.

Ms Blackwood asked Sir Bernard about the general practice, saying: “So you wouldn’t like to see investigating officers’ reports rewritten by senior officers for PR purposes?” He replied curtly: “I wouldn’t.”

The MPs’ committee chairman, Keith Vaz, said the commissioner appeared to be in a state of “shock” and he was worried that he did not have “a grip at the moment” on his organisation. He also revealed he had been in touch with Baroness Lawrence, the mother of Stephen, who was stabbed to death in south-east London by a racist gang in 1993.

Mr Vaz announced his committee would launch a new, wide-ranging inquiry into the structure, governance and culture of the Metropolitan Police. He also said that Lady Lawrence had told him Sir Bernard had briefed her personally on death threats being made against her, but, she told Mr Vaz, nothing more had been done to bring the perpetrators to justice. The visibly-shaken police chief said: “I will look into that immediately.”

The officer at the centre of alleged corruption within the Lawrence inquiry, Sgt John Davidson, should no longer be investigated by the Met, the Commissioner said. There have been at least three inquiries into the officer, one by Scotland Yard and two by the police watchdog, the last in 2006. It followed claims by a supergrass involved in the prosecution of corrupt officers that the officer – known as OJ for Obnoxious Jock – had links with a mid-level criminal and the father of one of the only two men jailed in 2012 for Stephen’s murder.

Sgt Davidson retired and was running a pub in Menorca called The Smugglers. But it has been on the market for more than a year because, according to his sale pitch, he wants to return to  Britain to be with his grandchildren.

“He has at least been investigated although the outcome has left a doubt,” said the Commissioner. Senior officers within the Met have stated publicly that they believed Mr Davidson was corrupt and that the review by Mark Ellison QC, published by the Home Secretary, found there was evidence to back the claim.

Theresa May has also asked the head of the National Crime Agency about possible next steps and investigations into potentially corrupt officers. “Whatever the investigation that may happen next I don’t believe the Metropolitan Police will be involved with it,” said the Commissioner. He said the force should not be involved in logging into the allegations against Sgt Davidson or anyone else from historic allegations.

In his own words: What Hogan-Howe told the committee

On the shredded documents “I would expect to keep it.”

On calls for a wider inquiry into the Met “There’s no need, it’s absolute nonsense.”

On speaking with former Met chiefs “I’d like to reassure you, if there’s a need to contact my predecessors we will; if I’m the right person to do it, I will.”

On the memo summarising alleged wrong-doing “I can’t give you a list of who has seen it.”

On the shredding “Did the shredding happen? It sounds like it did. The question is about the motivation to the shredding. There is an innocent one, it’s a normal process of… getting rid of documents. There is a malicious one. We have to establish which it was.”


Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk