The failings of the Metropolitan police are being felt far beyond the capital.
“It is playing in our area hundreds of miles away,” said one chief constable from outside London of the almost weekly disasters befalling the Met, which again finds itself with a lot of explaining to do.
The chief constable said people in their area know of two cases that had nothing to do with the force they lead but that nonetheless tarnished views of policing.
One is Wayne Couzens, the Met officer who in March 2021 abused his position to kidnap, rape and murder Sarah Everard. The Met’s leadership, after he was sentenced last month, then opened itself up for ridicule when it suggested women fearful that a plainclothes officer might harm them could flag down a bus.
The other case is that of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman. The latest in the Met’s series of frequent disasters and controversies was being found by the police watchdog to have made errors when the two sisters were reported missing.
“Trust and confidence is down over the last 18 months,” said the chief constable.
Events in Britain’s biggest force are shaping the public’s view of policing across the country, fear those in policing. One government source shared that concern: “It chips away at public confidence. The Met feeds across the rest of the country.”
Public confidence remains the stated lifeblood of British policing, essential to its legitimacy and its effectiveness.
The small piece of good news for the Met was that bias was not found to be a factor by the Independent Office for Police Conduct, but the mother of the victims, Mina Smallman, remains convinced it was and determined to pursue that point.
Officers also allegedly took photos at the murder scene. They will appear in court next week.
For police, assessing which missing person is safe and which is in danger remains complex.
In the period when Henry and Smallman were reported missing to the Met, the force was dealing with more than 100 missing person reports a day. It handled the prioritisation of the case of Sarah Everard correctly, but it was still a disaster for her family.
The Met said: “The Met launched 39,296 missing people investigations between June 2020 and May 2021 with each case needing a bespoke response. Cases involving children account for 41% of all Met missing people investigations, with children aged predominantly in the 14-16 year age group.”
Missing persons cases drain resources from forces across the country. Police chiefs have thought about doing less of them, but the danger remains that the one that is not looked at properly turns out to be a murder.
An inspector involved in the case of Henry and Smallman said his unit had “16 missing persons reports open” and was “under capacity by almost 50% during the Covid pandemic”.
Sue Fish, a former chief constable of Nottinghamshire police, is unconvinced: “It does not wash with me. You can have 16 missing people, but you have the whole of the Met. There was an inadequate assessment of the risk.”