Women’s safety campaigner Mina Smallman has warned the new Metropolitan police commissioner that she is giving him 100 days to address sexism and racism in the police force and “unless things have changed I’ll be coming for him”.
Smallman was thrust into the public eye after criticising the Met for failings in handling the case of the murder of her two daughters, Nicole Smallman, 27, and Bibaa Henry, 46, in a satanic ritual during the pandemic.
Smallman, who was the Church of England’s first female archdeacon from a black or minority ethnic background, lambasted the “toxic culture” that led to officers sharing photos of her two daughters’ bodies, and accused police of being slower to investigate the murder of women of colour.
But she said she remained “optimistic” that the recently appointed commissioner, Mark Rowley, would improve the Met’s culture.
“Why would you take that job on? It’s like being prime minister: a poison chalice. I’ve had conversations with him, and I choose to believe he understands the work that needs doing, but I give him 100 days and unless things have changed I’ll be coming for him,” she said.
Smallman told the Guardian she believed she had the ear of the Met, and her success at gaining media attention had given her “hotline numbers to some very powerful people”. But although there has been a huge cultural shift in how violence against women is understood, she feels the Met has been slow to implement changes which reflect this.
She said she had experienced “the best of Met policing and the worst”, but the main target of her ire was the insistence on a feeble apology. “Stop with the bloody sorry,” she said, adding that she “hate, hate, hate[s]” anaemic phrases such as “lessons will be learned”.
She is working with Jude Kelly, organiser of the Women of the World festival, on an event to be held in 2023 on the birthday of one of her daughters. Called It’s Time, the event will explore femicide, violence against women and how society can be made safer for women.
The pair are also collaborating on a death festival, which opens on Friday, and will aim to get people to think and talk more about death. In particular, Smallman and Kelly are interested in how British culture, which tends to frame death as tragic, gloomy and sinister, can take inspiration from cultures where it is treated as a celebration of life.
“The absolute one thing people have in common is we’re born and we die. We talk about birth a great deal – we congratulate, we’re fascinated by the process, we take millions of pictures because it’s a celebration – but we’re much more complicated, silent and gauche around discussing death,” said Kelly.
Kelly will be interviewing Smallman, who will share what she has learned about death from her experience working on funerals as a priest and grieving in the public eye. She will ask what it feels like when “you’re propelled into being a public figure at the very moment when you need private space and private time”.
Smallman said she had “found peace” in her activism work, which she believes has helped her process her grief. “When I’m not doing public speaking in some form or another I am at my lowest ebb … At home, I’m broken in a million pieces.
“I couldn’t save my girls in person but I’m speaking out to save other people’s daughters. That feels good to me, it feels like my girls would be saying, ‘Yeah that’s mum, that’s what she does.’”
Although as a minister she was trained in handling funerals and believes death should be approached more positively, she struggled to apply this edict to her own life. “I am absolute rubbish,” she said.
Both Kelly and Smallman believe that people should feel more comfortable talking about death, both in terms of processing their own experiences as grief and comforting the bereaved.
Smallman said she had noticed people struggled with how to phrase their condolences after her daughters’ murder, making it feel like a “dirty secret”, when “just reaching out and saying I’m here” was always appreciated.
“If we could change the way we view death – whether it’s sudden or after a long life – then we would give people permission to just say things that give us encouragement,” she said.
The death festival takes places between 11 and 12 November 2022 at the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts (ACCA), Brighton.