BBC BLOGS - Guy Smith's Met Matters

Archives for June 2010

Damaging Met Police mistakes will lose confidence of public

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Guy Smith | 18:42 UK time, Monday, 28 June 2010

Not once but twice, the Met has failed dozens of victims of sexual assault.

Today the Independent Police Complaints Commission published it's long-awaited report into serial sex attacker Kirk Reid.

He targeted lone women in south west London over an eight year period.

I've just talked to Denise Marshall, who was on the advisory panel to the IPCC. She's also chief executive of Eaves Housing - a well-respected charity for vulnerable women.

"I'm shocked to the core," she says. "The levels of stupidity are breathtaking. Unbelievably awful."

The IPCC commissioner Deborah Glass didn't pull her punches either. She summed up the Met's initial investigation as "shameful".

It follows a review in January into black cab driver John Worboys, who drugged and sexually assaulted dozens of women.

The police watchdog again found Met officers failed to properly investigate. Many of the attacks could have been stopped.

There were mistakes, missed opportunities, errors of judgement, the report discovered.

So it begs the question, how many more cases are there?

Well, the police watchdog says it's investigating at least three other cases.

Denise Marshall adds: "There's no excuse in the Reid case. It was poor policing and women in London (for both cases) have been let down."

One of those women rang me up this afternoon. She said she was one of the first victims to come forward to report John Worboys seven years ago.

"I was told by the officer that a cab driver wouldn't do that kind of thing," she says. "He just didn't believe me. I started not to believe myself. My boyfriend started to think I wasn't telling the truth. We've since split up. I have spent the last five to six years of my life thinking that I'm some sort of warped individual. Only now do I think I'm okay. I feel angrier with that officer than Worboys".

So in summary, this woman was doubly traumatised by someone not doing their job properly.

To be fair, the IPCC says the Met has improved how it handles investigations of sexual assault although the standards across London are inconsistent and more training needs to be done for front-line officers.

The Met has apologised and stresses it takes all allegations seriously.

Yet if you put together both the Worboys and Reid cases, then not only has there been huge damage to confidence for victims, but for the many dedicated officers who have worked hard to make a difference.

Can Chantal put the past behind her?

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Guy Smith | 08:46 UK time, Friday, 25 June 2010

Chantal McCorkleShe's finally home with her family.

Today, Chantal McCorkle is expected to be released from East Sutton Park prison in Kent.

She's spent the last 12 years in US jails but was transferred to Britain last summer.

Chantal - originally from Slough - and her American husband William - were convicted of fraud and money laundering. In 1999, they were jailed for 24 years without parole.

They ran a company in Florida selling videos about how to get rich quick on the property market. Their crime was to pretend actors were happy customers. That deception landing them in trouble and eventually prison.

Five years ago I visited Orlando to find out more about the case and also gained access to the jail outside San Francisco where she was imprisoned.

William McCorkle was said to have masterminded the infomercials, producing, directing and editing them. He did eventually admit full responsibility and said Chantal's role was minimal.

But the judge didn't release her early.

Some British lawyers say if the offences had been committed in England she would have got little more than a suspended sentence.

Her mother Diane has struggled to come to terms with what's happened.

"I have been in denial," she told me last night. "I never dwelt on where she was. I never faced the truth about where she was. If I did, I would have had a breakdown. I've held it all back. It has been difficult not knowing what was going to happen to her. I need closure on it all."

Chantal was 29 when she was convicted and sentenced. Now she's 42.

"It's surreal that she is coming out forever," said Diane. " I feel really stressed. I'm really nervous. But we'll all have a meal and I'll relax."

She added: "It's an end of one chapter for Chantal and the beginning of another. She doesn't want to dwell on the past. She wants to put it all behind her. I really don't know how she's going to cope after such a long time inside.

"When she was in jail she thought about one day having children but she's not thinking about it now. She has nine nephews and nieces and during the recent home visits she's got to know them. She loves them to bits. We're lucky, we're all a very close family."

Is that a police car or a chauffeur-driven limo?

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Guy Smith | 15:59 UK time, Thursday, 24 June 2010

A "disgraceful perk" and "totally unjustified".

Ouch!

policecar.jpg

That was the conclusion from Lib Dem politician Dee Doocey, when she confronted Britain's top cop today on whether senior officers should have "chauffeur-driven limos".

I've just returned from the monthly Metropolitan Police Authority meeting.

Unusually, Ms Doocey used London's Conservative mayor as a shining example of best practice.

She said if he can give up his public-funded car and ride a bicycle around the capital, then why can't others.

Dee Doocey said:

"At a time of austerity and when really tough decisions are set to be made across public services, it is unbelievable that the Met are still planning to provide chauffeur-driven cars for senior police officers.

"The failure to abolish this disgraceful perk is shameful."

So what are the facts?

There are currently 44 ACPO rank officers (i.e. commander and above) in the Met who are entitled to a car, cash equivalent or first class travel.

The commissioner, deputy commissioner and assistant commissioners are given a car and driver. They can be driven from home to office.

Three other posts within counter-terrorism are provided with a car and a driver for security reasons.

If my maths is right, there are now 26 dedicated drivers ferrying these senior officers around but according to the Met Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson, that is about to be cut to 19.

He defended the benefit, saying it was part of these officers "terms and conditions of contract."

He also said they were on call much of the time and there was considerable personal security risks for some of them.

Yet Dee Doocey disagreed:

"Removing all chauffeur-driven cars from all senior Met officers with the exception of cars required for security and operational purposes would save an estimated £2 million a year."

What do you think? Shameful perk or a necessary part of the job?

Should Met recruits work first 200 hours for free?

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Guy Smith | 13:47 UK time, Monday, 21 June 2010

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More than a thousand applicants have been told they have "no realistic prospect" of becoming police officers any time soon despite getting through all the Met's recruitment stages.

Why? Well, simply there are not enough current officers leaving the service.

The Met overestimated the number of vacancies coming up and so the unfortunate would-be recruits have been left to find new careers.

A statement from the Met reads:

"Unfortunately, the lead in time meant that these applications had been received before the downturn in retirements and resignations materialised and before we could turn off the taps."

The 1,200 candidates have been telephoned and sent letters confirming the news.

Meanwhile, there are plans for a major change in how the Met recruits new officers in the future.

I've just read a document that will be presented to the Metropolitan Police Authority this Thursday (June 24, 2010).

Special Constables could soon become the "principal point of recruitment".

Traditionally, you'd go through a 25 weeks of training on full pay. The new criteria will mean you have to be a Special Constable first and then pass law and policing exams.

What's the good news?

This will apparently save around £20,000 per recruit in salaries because the special constable would be doing the job for free.

The Met also thinks there would be less chance of the prospective officer dropping out as they would already have had a real taste of policing the capital.

And the hope is the new model will attract a more diverse recruit - more women and more officers from an ethnic minority - which the Met desperately needs.

Currently, almost a third of the 3,300 specials are black or Asian, and 30 per cent are women.

So what's the bad news? Well, the Police Federation is concerned.

Pete Smyth from the Met's Police Federation branch questioned how many people would want to do 200 hours unpaid as a Special with no guarantee of a job at the end.

He also said there would be issues over diversity because women with children would have to work voluntarily on top of childcare and other paid work.

So what do you think? Is this a good move or not? Is this just a step away from the American model where in some states you have to pay for your training?

Does it matter if the MPA is scrapped?

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Guy Smith | 14:53 UK time, Tuesday, 15 June 2010

We always knew it was on the cards.

And today Boris Johnson spelled it out in a little more detail. There are plans to scrap the Metropolitan Police Authority.

He announced proposals to divide the functions of the MPA between himself and the London Assembly.

Sir Paul Stephenson before the Mayor and the MPA

In it's place he wants a Policing Board for London. London's mayor would take on the executive functions.

The government now needs to sign off the plans.

But what does it all mean? And why should we care?

Well, currently the MPA, which was set up a decade ago, has a dual purpose. It acts as both the executive board and also scrutinises and holds the Met to account.

The Conservative mayor says this has "led to confusion", with some MPA members publicly criticising decisions they themselves helped make.

This is from Boris' policy document:

"The Mayor should be, or should be given the power to appoint, the chair of a new Policing Board based in the GLA. The Mayor would also appoint the other Board members.

"Under the Mayor's leadership, the Policing Board would set overall policing policy and strategic priorities, and ensure an efficient and effective police service for London.

"The Mayor would retain responsibility for monitoring and managing the police budget, and for monitoring performance on crime and the Policing Plan targets.

"The Home Secretary and the Mayor would jointly appoint the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. The Commissioner would then appoint the Deputy Commissioner and other members of the MPS's senior management team."

Politicians on the current MPA are naturally cautious.

Dee Doocey (Lib Dem) agrees that the Commissioner should be able to decide his top team.

Currently, the MPA does that job and also has the power to discipline senior officers.

But she says:

"I'm worried about political interference in operational matters.

"I feel uncomfortable that if the mayor or one of his nominees takes control and is calling all the shots then you could get a situation where the commissioner will be worrying about his political masters and not doing what he thinks is right."

Jenny Jones (Green), who's been a member from its inception in 2000, says the MPA in its current form has been too "obstreperous, difficult and challenging" for the Met.

"We have pestered them and demanded answers, " she says. "So they'll be delighted if the changes go ahead.

"Any board he (Boris) appoints won't have the breadth, knowledge or viewpoints to challenge the police. It just won't have the validity."

A former Chair of the MPA, Lord Toby Harris (Labour) believes "independent advice is critical".

"The key thing is you create a structure that enables enough independent advice," he says.

"The current structure requires a political balance and that independent element is appointed with transparency."

What do think? Do you have any potential concerns about the changes?

Is mentoring black teenagers an issue of colour?

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Guy Smith | 19:24 UK time, Monday, 14 June 2010

Ray Lewis

Boris has brought back a former deputy mayor, who quit amid claims of financial irregularities and inappropriate behaviour.

Ray Lewis has always denied the allegations.

But today Mr Lewis was reintroduced as an adviser.

He'll be helping to run a new mentoring project that will target the attitudes and behaviour of troubled teenagers.

The aim of the scheme, which launches in the Autumn, is to recruit 1,000 adult males to act as mentors.

We're told he and Richard Taylor, who's the father of murdered schoolboy Damilola, will both be volunteering their "time for free" to ensure the plans work.

Boris Johnson said:

"There is no magic solution to ending youth crime, but I am more determined than ever to use this new partnership to turn around the lives of as many troubled young people as possible".

And those young people are disproportionately young black men. They are the most affected by serious violent crime here in the capital.

The figures show that 77% of teenage murder victims from 2007 to 2009 were black. And more than two thirds of young offenders serving life sentences in London were black.

The Mayor's press office says most of the mentors on the new scheme will be black.

Yet does the colour of your skin matter?

It's a question David McQueen asks in his blog.

He says he's worked at Ray Lewis' Eastside Young Leaders Academy in Newham.

"I think we in the Afro community miss a big trick when we think that only black men are the only ones to mentor black boys," says David, who has worked with young people for 20 years.

"There is a certain dynamic that comes from male mentorship but I think we should widen the pool to include any man capable of good leadership."

Today also saw the launch of another mentoring scheme called "Grandmentors" designed to help "troubled teens."

The three year pilot project, which is run by the charity Community Service Volunteers, is based in Islington and Hackney. It's open to anyone aged over 50, who wants to "transform the lives of youngsters."

So what makes a good mentor?

Does it matter how old you are, whether you're male or female, or white, Asian or black?

Police scour London's airports for World Cup hooligans

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Guy Smith | 16:20 UK time, Wednesday, 9 June 2010

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Just two days to go and all eyes will be on the beautiful game.

The World Cup in South Africa kicks off on Friday with 32 nations battling it out for a month.

Yet before that, Scotland Yard says it's determined to prevent the uglier side of football travelling out to the matches to cause potential trouble.

Last week we reported on the Met issuing a warning to 310 Londoners, who are on banning orders: fail to surrender your passport and you'll be nicked.

Well, today we discovered the majority had handed in their travel documents.

Only 25 ignored the deadline and 11 of them so far have been arrested.

Today our cameras were invited to Terminal One at Heathrow to film the Met's specialist football "spotters".

They were airside looking out for a small hardcore of so-called hooligans intent on sneaking out to the games.

I'm told the ports operation, which includes London City Airport, will continue as long as England are in the World Cup.

Meanwhile, here in the capital, riot officers will be on standby to tackle drunken violence at clubs and pubs.

The Met is liaising with boroughs to identify possible flashpoints.

It'll be the England games on June 12th, 18th and 23rd which will be of most concern.

One final point: it's not just violence on the street that needs to be dealt with. During the last World Cup four years ago, there was a statistical spike in violence in the home.

This afternoon the head of Scotland Yard's public order unit Commander Bob Broadhurst explained more. Watch my TV report.

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

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Guy Smith | 16:15 UK time, Thursday, 3 June 2010

Rachel Nickell. Getty ImagesThe Met claims it's apologised. The partner of Rachel Nickell, who was killed on Wimbledon Common in July 1992, strongly disagrees.

That was the primary reason Andre Hanscombe made a formal complaint to the Independent Police Complaints Commission in November, last year.

Today the IPCC published a scathing report on how the Metropolitan Police investigated a series of rapes and three murders.

In sum, the police watchdog revealed a "catalogue of bad decisions and errors".

Firstly, that the Met had failed to "sufficiently investigate" after the mother of Rachel's killer Robert Napper called police to report that he had confessed to a rape on Plumstead Common in 1989.

Secondly and "inconceivably", detectives had eliminated Napper from enquiries into an earlier series of rapes because he was over 6ft tall.

IPCC commissioner Rachel Cerfontyne said: "Without these errors, Robert Napper could have been off the streets before he killed Rachel Nickell and the Bissets (Samantha and Jazmine), and before numerous women suffered violent sexual attacks at his hands."

She added that Rachel's murder remained one of the most shocking cases this country has ever seen. Rachel was stabbed 49 times in front of her two year old son Alex.

Assistant Commissioner John Yates publicly apologised in 2008 to Colin Stagg, who was relentlessly and wrongly pursued by detectives as the prime suspect. He's subsequently received substantial compensation for his ordeal.

The IPCC reports "nobody at the MPS (Metropolitan Police Service) has ever stood up in public and offered an apology" to the other people whose lives were affected.

The IPCC has called on the Met to issue an unreserved apology.

I've repeatedly phoned the Met to invite them on our main TV news programme tonight at 6.30pm. Unfortunately, they've declined the offer without giving any indication why the audience will not be seeing or hearing from a senior officer after such criticism.

However, they have issued a written statement.

"A private apology was made to Mr Hanscombe in 2008", it reads. "And the MPS has no hesitation in repeating that apology today. Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick has also offered to meet Mr Hanscombe again for a face-toface meeting."

The statement continues with the promise that a senior officer will be writing to Rachel's partner and son to "reiterate" how sorry they are.

It never fails to surprise me when an organisation rejects the opportunity to explain to broadcast media where things have gone wrong and how they have subsequently improved their investigative processes.

Some media strategists would argue that to hear from someone clearly stating a sincere and open public apology goes a long way in limiting the damage to an organisation's reputation.

A footnote to this is: no police officer will face disciplinary action because they have all retired and one key senior detecitive has died.

Too good to be true? It's probably a scam

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Guy Smith | 17:02 UK time, Tuesday, 1 June 2010

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Please excuse the cliché but if it looks too good to be true, then it probably is.

Even so thousands of Londoners are conned every year by mass marketing scams. And it's not just the elderly and vulnerable, who've been tricked.

I've just talked to a senior detective with the Met's Economic and Specialist Crime Command. He says solicitors, accountants and lawyers have all been fooled.

Criminal gangs defraud people in the UK out of an estimated £3.5 billion each year.

There are dozens of scams, many originating from abroad, currently doing the rounds and they all seem perfectly plausible.

There's an inheritance scam, where fraudsters impersonate lawyers and charge the victim a fee for securing money supposedly left by a distant relative.

Then there's the missed call scam. That's when people are tricked into calling a premium rate number after receiving a missed call from an unknown person.

And if that wasn't enough. Many people have also been caught out by the romance scam. That works when the victim meets a stranger online, and is enticed into sending them money for bogus medical treatment or plane fares.

These types of fraud are hugely under-reported.

Many people feel too embarrassed to tell the police and so remain silent. But the detective I spoke to says there's nothing to be ashamed of and failing to reporting it just allows the fraudsters to rip someone else off.

So have you been a victim? Or do you know someone who has? Watch my TV report above and see if you think police awareness campaigns make any difference.

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