Met chief clashes with senior Tory amid furious scenes in Commons

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  • April 26, 2023
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A senior Conservative attacked the honesty and competence of the Metropolitan police commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, in furious scenes at a Commons committee, while the police chief denounced the “pillorying” of his force.

Lee Anderson MP, the deputy chair of the Tory party, accused Rowley of not being “very honest” and claimed he was bungling his job. Rowley denounced the “personally offensive” attacks and accused Anderson of not knowing the law.

The clashes came during a session of the home affairs committee and a month after a damning report by Louise Casey that found Britain’s biggest force to be riddled with prejudice and incompetence.

Another Tory MP, James Daly, accused Rowley of previously being part of the senior leadership that had turned a “blind eye” to the “negligence” and “incompetence” that plunged the Met into its current deep crisis and left it a “national disgrace”.

The critical comments are a warning sign that the patience Rowley says he needs to turn the Met around may have run out among some lawmakers.

Rowley became commissioner in September 2022, having retired in 2018 after a career in several forces. He first joined the Met in 2011 as an assistant commissioner.

Anderson, who under Rishi Sunak became deputy chair of the Tory party, asked Rowley whether he had seen instances of racism, homophobia and misogyny during his career.

The commissioner said he “had always been tough” on standards and when pressed for an example, said he could not recall a specific one, leading Anderson to say: “You must have walked around with your eyes closed.” Things deteriorated from there.

“It would appear you are in denial,” Anderson said.

Rowley pleaded for support from politicians for his reform efforts, but Anderson said: “You’ve got to be honest. To sit there and say you can’t remember when you’ve witnessed these incidents, I don’t think that is very honest at all.” Rowley replied: “People don’t misbehave in front of senior officers in that way.”

Pressed more, he did admit to seeing incidents that “weren’t fit for today’s standards”, but declined to give detail.

Worse was to come as Anderson accused the commissioner of being too lax on protesters outside parliament, with each accusing the other of not understanding the law.

Anderson said Britain’s top officer – originally from inner-city Birmingham – should leave his “ivory tower”, and went on to say: “You might want to believe, commissioner, that you’re doing your job correctly, but I don’t think you are. I feel like I’m wasting my time with you.

“Five years out of the force … There’s probably people listening to this today [who] wish it was a lot longer, and I’m one of them.”

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Rowley interrupted: “I’m not going to sit here, if you want to be personally offensive then write it in newspapers … but I’m not going to answer these questions.”

Rowley also said: “We have made much progress over the last few decades … but it is not enough. And we are doubling down on standards, more ferociously than has been done for five decades.

“But the vast majority of our people are good people and the debate which turns this into pillory of the police root and branch is not something I’m going to accept.”

Some will see the clashes as a symptom of a more brutish Conservative party, others as forceful attempts to stop Rowley dodging fair questions.

A series of disastrous scandals becoming public this year have not menaced Rowley’s grip on the commissionership so far, since he argued he was in post to lead the clean-up.

But the personal nature of the criticism suggests some in the Conservative party are not buying it, raising the prospect that the committee’s report may be troubling for Rowley.

These were some of the most bitter scenes a Met chief has faced at the hands of MPs in recent memory. A Met chief’s evidence about phone hacking was derided by MPs in 2011, some of whom laughed openly.