Broken Yard: The Fall of the Metropolitan Police by Tom Harper review – the force’s annus horribilis – The Guardian

The investigative journalist examines key episodes from the Met’s recent history, with frank contributions from insiders, in a book that should be essential reading for the new commissioner
A new Metropolitan police commissioner just installed. A new home secretary just installed. Angry demonstrators outside Scotland Yard carrying “Abolish the Met” signs in protest against the fatal shooting by an officer of an unarmed young black man, Chris Kaba, in south London. The publication of Broken Yard: The Fall of the Metropolitan Police could hardly be more timely.
Back in 1977, a book called The Fall of Scotland Yard by Barry Cox, John Shirley and Martin Short made significant waves, cataloguing a period when, as its introduction explained, “a score of London detectives went to jail, hundreds more left the force in disgrace… the myth of the London bobby was badly dented.” This was the time when corruption among detectives was so endemic that the commissioner, Sir Robert Mark, famously declared that the measure of a good force was that it “catches more crooks than it employs”.
Now nearly half a century later we seem to be back where we started. The Met police has had an annus horribilis, from the jailing of its officer Wayne Couzens for the murder of Sarah Everard, to scandals involving sexist and racist “banter”, to the conviction of two officers for posting photographs of the murdered sisters, Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry, and culminating in the controversial departure of Cressida Dick and the arrival last month of her replacement, Mark Rowley.
There have been other recent critical insights into life in the Met, written by former officers. They range from Blue: Keeping the Peace and Falling to Pieces, a memoir by John Sutherland, to this year’s Tango Juliet Foxtrot (TJF): How Did It All Go Wrong for British Policing? by Iain Donnelly (TJF, by the way, stands for “the job’s fucked”), while Jackie Malton’s The Real Prime Suspect paints a grim picture of what it was like to be a female officer in the not-so-far-distant past. What Tom Harper, a former Sunday Times journalist, has managed to do is pull together the major events that have culminated in the latest and perhaps heaviest fall.
Harper has concentrated on 17 specific episodes, from the shameful bungling of investigations into the murders of Stephen Lawrence and Daniel Morgan, to the symbiotic relationship between Rupert Murdoch’s News International and Scotland Yard, which emerged through the hacking scandal and the Leveson inquiry.
He explores Operation Midland, the bizarre investigation into the claims made by the fantasist “Nick” – later jailed under his real name of Carl Beech – of a VIP paedophile ring which were deemed at the time by a detective superintendent to be “credible and true”. He also investigates the opening and closing of Plebgate and Partygate. In fact, one of the most revealing contributions is that of Andrew Mitchell, the former minister involved in the former fandango, which crucially exacerbated the rift between the Conservative government and the police.
While most of the tales are, at a basic level, fairly familiar, what Harper has managed to do is to put them lucidly in context and then add the inside knowledge from the protagonists, whether detectives, witnesses, victim or suspects, many of whom have spoken remarkably frankly to him.
In his coverage of phone hacking and the Met’s initial failure to investigate the Guardian’s revelations about it, he is unrestrained in his criticism of his former employer, noting that the “outrageous behaviour by Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid newspapers was being exposed on an almost weekly basis. For years Scotland Yard had been made aware of rampant media criminality and done nothing about it.”
He quotes Lucy Panton, the former crime editor of the News of the World, whose police sources were exposed to the Yard by her bosses and who said that she felt she had been “completely hung out to dry” by a company she had loyally served. Harper presents evidence that News Corp, as News International became, handed over those details of their journalists’ police sources in order to avoid being charged with serious corporate offences. He also quotes at length Jonathan Rees, the strange former partner of the murdered private eye Daniel Morgan, and shines a light on his extraordinary relationship with the Murdoch papers.
Of Wayne Couzens, Harper recounts the Met’s embarrassment when it emerged that “an armed officer tasked with protecting politicians, dignitaries and VIPs should never have passed the Met’s supposedly tough vetting procedures. An investigation later found that he regularly cavorted with prostitutes, took dangerous bodybuilding steroids and earned the nickname ‘the Rapist’ at his previous force, Kent police, for reasons that have never been explained.”
He notes the problems the Met now faces as a result of the enormous rise in cybercrime, unrecognised by the government until 2017, when the Office for National Statistics finally started logging online fraud and computer misuse, and then found that 5m offences had been reported in the previous 12 months. But in general the government is treated pretty gently for its major role in the current crisis and in the demoralisation of the Met. This is despite the failures of successive home secretaries, from Theresa May’s disastrous slashing of the numbers of officers by 20,000 – only now being very belatedly addressed – to Priti Patel’s treatment of the police as little more than handy photo opportunities.
This is not an anti-police book. Harper salutes officers such as PC Keith Palmer, who was stabbed to death in 2017 outside the Houses of Parliament by the Islamist terrorist Khalid Masood, and the dogged Clive Driscoll, who pursued the killers of Stephen Lawrence long after others had failed to do so.
So where did it all go wrong? One theory is advanced by Roy Ramm, who joined the Met in 1970 and rose to the rank of commander, and is quoted for his criticism of senior officers at Scotland Yard: “They are professional police managers who have risen through the ranks without trace, without ever standing in the witness box and giving evidence. This breed of political senior officers has done immense damage to policing,” is his assessment.
Other failings are exposed. Sir Richard Henriques, the retired high court judge who witheringly reviewed the failures of Operation Midland, is quoted as suggesting that there are “far too many ranks” in the Met, no fewer than five above the rank of chief superintendent. And he posits the idea that it may be “too large to be governable”. A former Met borough commander, Tony Nash, thinks that many more officers with experience in the CID should be in senior positions. “A lot of decision-makers have not had an investigative background… They are very ambitious, very good public speakers, but not necessarily investigators and therefore they don’t really understand what it actually entails.”
The new commissioner has already announced that there will now be major changes at the Met, with an increase in the number of officers in the directorate of professional standards (DPS), the squad responsible for rooting out corruption and dodgy behaviour. A copy of Broken Yard should also now be on his bedside table.
Duncan Campbell is a former Guardian crime correspondent and author of We’ll All Be Murdered in Our Beds: The Shocking History of Crime Reporting in Britain
Broken Yard: The Fall of the Metropolitan Police by Tom Harper is published by Biteback Publishing (£20). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at Delivery charges may apply


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