About 160 Metropolitan Police officers have been accused of sexual misconduct in the past two years, an investigation has found.
Freedom of Information requests carried out by My London show the police officers had been accused of sexual assault, sexual harassment and other forms of sexual misconduct in 2019 and 2020.
An additional 33 officers had allegations levied against them in the first five months of 2021.
The figures come in the context of the Met Police facing fierce criticism in the aftermath of the murder of Sarah Everard in March.
Wayne Couzens, a serving officer, was sacked from the Metropolitan Police last week after being convicted of the murder, rape and kidnap of the 33-year-old marketing executive. The Met sparked outrage for their manhandling of women attending a vigil in Everard’s memory – with calls for Dame Cressida Dick, the Met commissioner, to stand down from her post.
Harriet Wistrich, an award-winning human rights lawyer, raised concerns about the latest figures of alleged sexual misconduct as she warned they were “horrifying in their scale”.
“The fact so few result in further action reveals why Wayne Couzens was not stopped in his tracks earlier,” Ms Wistrich, who is founding director of the Centre for Women’s Justice, told The Independent. “As our police super-complaint into police-perpetrated abuse has illustrated, there is not a sufficiently independent or robust mechanism for investigating such allegations of sexual misconduct by police officers.”
Ms Wistrich added: “The lack of proper accountability only serves to undermine further women’s belief that the police can be trusted.
“The Met need to get a grip and create a complete zero-tolerance climate for such misconduct, so officers are in no doubt their careers and potentially liberty are at stake.”
The fresh data reveals the amount of conduct issues voiced by staff or line managers linked to the actions of on- and off-duty officers – with the vast majority of those accused being male police officers.
Almost 800 Met officers have been accused of sexual misconduct from colleagues since 2010 – with just 191 of these having been arrested on suspicion of perpetrating a sexual offence.
In the past decade, the data shows that 2019 was the year when the highest number of sexual offences allegations were made, with 86 officers accused of sexual offences. This is almost double the figure of 47 in 2011.
The data also reveals 104 complaints were made by non-police officers in the general population about the conduct of Met officers in 2019 and 2020.
Four people were either “suspended or restricted” in these two years, while only two individuals made appearances in court because of sexual offence allegations levied against them in the entire decade.
Andrea Simon, director of End Violence Against Women Coalition, told The Independent she was unsurprised serving and former police officers were being accused of sexual offences.
She noted that crimes of a sexual nature are highly prevalent in all areas of society but warned it was “unacceptable the numbers are increasing in this way among police officers, and that the majority of complaints result in no action being taken”.
Ms Simon added: “It calls into question how effective internal processes and independent complaints procedures are at dealing with allegations of sexual harassment and assault, that disproportionately impact women.
“When there are allegations of sexual violence or domestic abuse made against police officers, they should be looked into by neighbouring police forces, to ensure investigations are truly independent and not compromised by cultures of loyalty.”
She argued police officers must “be held to the highest standards”, with “rigorous processes” in place to handle sexual misconduct to make sure victims can “have trust and confidence” in officers.
Ms Simon added: “But these issues should be looked at systemically – not dismissed as just a few bad apples. Sexist and racist cultures in policing need to be tackled head-on; there is no place for these attitudes and behaviour anywhere, especially not within our justice agencies.”
Katie Russell, of Rape Crisis England & Wales, told The Independent the new figures were “disturbing” and serve as a reminder the police service is “in no way immune from the sexism, misogyny and sexual violence and abuse that are so widespread throughout the rest of society”.
She added: “Police have a clear duty to uphold the very highest standards of conduct and to take a zero-tolerance approach to any unwanted or inappropriate sexual behaviours from its staff.
“With criminal justice outcomes for sexual offences so chronically low, anything less threatens to seriously undermine the already minimal public confidence in the system, and critically, the safety of the general public.”
Her comments come after the victims commissioner for England and Wales told The Independent that women’s faith in the police is “low” due to officers failing to tackle domestic abuse in their own ranks. In an interview earlier in the week, Dame Vera Baird QC, said mistrust in the police has grown in the wake of the murder of Everard.
Dame Vera said: “Faith in the police is not at its best. Particularly as it was a police officer who killed Sarah Everard. And then the offensive graphic a Met Police officer involved in the Everard murder investigation allegedly sent via WhatsApp.
“And then it recently emerged the police are not dealing with abusers in their own ranks. This wipes out women’s faith in them being willing to tackle sexual violence and domestic abuse.”
A recent Channel 4 investigation discovered that one woman every week reports a police officer for seriously abusing them or their children.
Roughly 129 women got in touch with the Centre for Women’s Justice, a leading charity, alleging their partner in the police has subjected them to domestic abuse. The claims include rape, physical violence and coercive control.
Last year, The Independent reported on lawyers warning that police officers were enabled to abuse their partners with impunity by a “locker room culture” that turns a blind eye to domestic abuse.
A spokesperson for the Met Police said: “While the allegations involve a small percentage of staff, we acknowledge the impact any alleged offence will have on those involved, and will continue to take all allegations made against staff extremely seriously. There is no place for behaviour of this nature within the organisation.
“Where standards are proven to have fallen below what is expected, we take appropriate action to ensure both accountability and that lessons are learnt from each case. Where officers are convicted of a crime, they will also face internal misconduct proceedings.
“Matters such as these are investigated by the Directorate of Professional Standards with referrals to the Independent Office for Police Conduct as appropriate, which may independently investigate the allegations.”