As the detective who inspired TV’s Prime Suspect, I know this: the misogyny of David Carrick lives on | Jackie Malton

I hope the rapist’s sentencing will offer closure to victims, but fear the Met will be weeding out abusive officers for some time

  • Jackie Malton is a former senior police officer

We have now heard for the first time from David Carrick’s victims – the women a serving Met police officer raped, controlled, threatened and abused. Their victim statements, read out by prosecutor Tom Little during Carrick’s sentencing hearing on Monday, painted a picture of terror, violence and control; of being made to feel “worthless”, “degraded”, “ashamed”, “like a piece of dirt on his shoe”.

I hope that Carrick’s sentencing for his 49 offences will bring some sense of closure to his victims. But it should offer no sense of an ending to the Metropolitan police. Because a running thread in the victims’ statements was Carrick’s job. He was not just a police officer who happened to be a rapist – he used his badge, his status, and even his police firearm to threaten and coerce women. “Every time I see a police car,” one victim said, “I freeze and hold my breath.” The Met failed to properly vet Carrick, and failed to take action following eight complaints about his conduct with women.

More than 30 years ago, I voiced my own experiences as a female detective chief inspector (DCI) to the writer Lynda La Plante, to inform her groundbreaking TV drama, Prime Suspect, and its lead character, DCI Jane Tennison (played by Helen Mirren). I recounted the bigotry of an institution dominated by white men, and the impact it had on the way police forces investigated crimes, based on lazy assumptions about victims of sexual assaults and domestic violence. The show’s transmission led to a flurry of debate about the cult of masculinity within policing.

Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect.
Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect. Photograph: ITV/Rex/Shutterstock

On some fronts, huge progress has been made since that time: I was one of only three female DCIs in the Met when I first began working as a consultant on Prime Suspect, and all chief constables in the country were male. Now, many of them are women. Yet despite the changed leadership profile and greater societal repudiation of discrimination, it appears that a toxic culture of misogyny and racism still pervades in some parts of the organisation. Collective jaws dropped to the floor in 2021 when the then serving officer Wayne Couzens was found to be the man responsible for the abduction, rape and murder of Sarah Everard. Then there was evidence of deeply disturbing misogynist and racist views in some pockets of the Met.

And there is clearly more bad news to come. The Met is in the process of reviewing 1,633 cases of domestic violence or sexual abuse, relating to accusations levelled against 1,071 officers and police staff over the last decade, to check the appropriate decisions were made. A new hotline for the public, set up by the Met, is generating new cases – some relating to police officers in other forces. Met commissioner Mark Rowley has already warned of “more painful stories” ahead.

When it comes to turning the culture around, it is vital that officers are able to speak up about concerns they may have about colleagues – yet this is difficult in a job where a strong team spirit is integral, and where any raising of issues risks being seen as “letting the side down”. I speak from experience. In the mid-1980s, I endured a harrowing year after reporting the concerns of “Stella”, a colleague who suspected someone higher up the ranks of wrongdoing. The officer in charge of our station was furious that I had reported it through the appropriate channels, rather than keeping it in-house. It wasn’t only his wrath that I had to contend with, but also that of colleagues.

Word soon got around that “Stella” and I had reported one of “our own”. A group of officers manifested their disgust by standing up and walking out when I went to get a cup of tea in the canteen. I was told of graffiti in the men’s toilets about my sexuality, and – in what seemed unlikely to be a coincidence – appalling porn was pushed through my letter box at home at midnight. “Stella” had it no easier, with excrement smeared on her car handle and her tyres deflated. When she moved on to a new station, she was told there was a “trust” issue as a result of her reporting on a senior colleague – even though she had been proved to be right. Should she ever need “urgent assistance” on the streets, she was told, none would be forthcoming.

This occurred almost 40 years ago but it seems that on this front, not enough has changed, as an October 2022 interim report into the culture and standards at the Met by Louise Casey recently laid bare. “Too often”, said the report, people who had reported wrongdoing said that they found the system “stacked against them”. Many officers and staff said that they were made to feel as if they were the problem for speaking up. “We heard that supervisors and managers are actively dissuading their staff from reporting misconduct,” the report continued. A police officer has told Sky News that she, too, was raped by Carrick, but didn’t report it because it would have been “the end of my career”; that colleagues would have “laughed” in response.

After Casey’s report came out, Rowley vowed to root out racist and misogynist behaviour in the Met; leaders who turn a blind eye, he said, are “as guilty as the offender”. He is right. Ultimately, nothing will change until leaders right across the organisation make raising concern about colleagues a less punitive and lonely experience. Elsewhere, reviews triggered by ministers are under way around vetting, disciplinaries and dismissals.

All eyes are now on Rowley, with much at stake: without the public’s engagement, police officers will struggle to do their job, and our streets will be less safe. Added to that, we risk losing talented police officers who are fed up with being tarred with the same brush.

There’s no way round the fact that meaningful change in an organisation as vast as the Met will take time. Rowley has already warned that kicking out those not fit to wear the uniform won’t be a speedy affair, and it is likely to be a painful one too. To get on with the job, he needs to be free of the usual kneejerk expectation from politicians in search of quick results. Patience is the order of the day.

  • As told to Hélène Mulholland. Jackie Malton is a former senior police officer who inspired the character of DCI Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect. She is the author, with Hélène Mulholland, of The Real Prime Suspect: from the beat to the screen

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Jackie Malton

The GuardianTramp

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