Confidence in London police crumbles as Met officer who admitted to serial rapes awaits sentencing

The battered reputation of London’s Metropolitan police — the United Kingdom’s largest and best known force — will be hard to ignore this week as one of its own is set to be sentenced for the rape and sexual abuse of 12 women over nearly two decades.  

Critics say culture of misogyny within Metropolitan Police Service has helped shield sexual predators on force

Two men wear bright yellow Metropolitan Police jackets while standing on a London street.
Police officers patrol in London on Oct. 1, 2021. The case of David Carrick, a former Metropolitan Police officer who admitted to being a serial rapist and is set to be sentenced this week has thrown a spotlight on what some say is a culture of misogyny within the force. (Frank Augstein/The Associated Press)

The battered reputation of London's Metropolitan Police — the United Kingdom's largest and best known force — will be hard to ignore this week as one of its own receives sentencing for the rape and sexual abuse of 12 women over nearly two decades. 

The now former Metropolitan Police constable, David Carrick, pleaded guilty to 49 offences including rape, sexual assault, coercive control and false imprisonment in a London court last month. 

Almost as shocking, for many people, is how many red flags the Metropolitan Police — also known as Scotland Yard or the Met — either missed or ignored before Carrick was unmasked as a serial rapist.

In a January media release, the Met said that Carrick had come to the attention of several police forces nine times before October 2021. The release noted he had not been charged on any of those occasions.

WATCH | Former met police officer admits to being serial rapist:

Elite British police officer admits to being serial rapist

5 months ago
Duration 2:59
An officer with London’s Metropolitan Police force has admitted raping and sexually assaulting a dozen women over a 17-year period. David Carrick had served with Scotland Yard's parliamentary and diplomatic protection command.

"The police were receiving allegations about him being a domestic abuser and allegations of sexual assault and other misconduct by him," said Harriet Wistrich, a solicitor and founding director of the Centre for Women's Justice.

"And yet somehow he managed to kind of float through the system, float through vetting processes, be promoted, be allowed to have a firearm."

In the wake of Carrick's conviction last month, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Mark Rowley announced a review of more than 1,000 police officers and staff who have previously been the subject of domestic or sexual abuse complaints. 

"I have tens of thousands of great men and women who really care about policing, but it's also obvious I have hundreds of people who shouldn't be here," he said in an interview with London media. 

Culture of misogyny

With Carrick's conviction coming nearly two years after 33-year-old Sarah Everard was raped and murdered by Wayne Couzens, another Met police officer who pleaded guilty to the crime, trust in the police is in short supply.

"It just seems to be going lower and lower," said Parm Sandhu, a former chief superintendent with the Met. She says it's rare for someone like her — a woman of colour — to reach the upper ranks.

A woman with long dark hair wearing a pink scarf looks directly into the camera.
Parm Sandhu, a former chief superintendent with the Metropolitan Police, says that when she was on the force, misogynistic talk was dismissed as banter or locker-room talk and women police officers who complained would find themselves shut out. (Lily Martin/CBC )

Like others here, Sandhu believes a culture of misogyny at the Met has been allowed to grow, helping to shield sexual predators on the force.

"It's not one bad apple, it's not a couple of bad apples. There are numerous officers and they need to be taken care of. The system just needs to be cleansed." 

Sandhu spent 30 years with the Met police, but says she was still bullied out. 

It's not one bad apple, it's not a couple of bad apples. There are numerous officers and they need to be taken care of. The system just needs to be cleansed.- Parm Sandhu, former chief superintendent with the Metropolitan Police

Misogynistic talk was dismissed as banter or locker-room talk and women police officers who complained, she said, would find themselves shut out, left on their own when they called for back-up or suddenly the target of counter complaints. 

Thirty years ago the murder of a Black teenager named Stephen Lawrence — and a bungled investigation by the Met police — eventually prompted a major public inquiry that pointed to failed leadership and institutional racism. 

It was described as a watershed moment, but Sandhu says force leaders are still in denial. 

"The police service should be saying right now, 'We are racist, we are sexist, we are misogynistic.' They're not. They're trying to batten down the hatches." 

Concerns women won't seek help from police

Sandhu's biggest concern is that women will be deterred from reaching out to police when they need help. 

"Is she going to hesitate picking up the phone? Is she going to think 'No, I'm not going to ask for help because I'm going to get one of those racist, sexist, misogynistic officers?' " 

A woman in workout clothes takes aim at a punching mat held by another woman in a martial arts class.
Dasha Dubovitskaya takes part in a martial arts class in south London last week. Since the murder of Sarah Everard by a Metropolitan police officer in 2021, she says she's no longer sure if she would feel safe reporting a crime to police. (Lily Martin/CBC)

It's a question Dasha Dubovitskaya says she takes much more seriously in the wake of the revelations at the Met. 

"For the longest time I thought, 'Oh no, but really I can go to the police if there is an issue. I don't feel that way anymore.' " 

She was taking part in a martial arts class in south London, where about half the students were women.

Dubovitskaya says if she saw a lone police officer walking toward her these days, she would walk away. Quickly. 

That's because of Everard's murder. Couzens, now serving a life sentence for the crime, used his police badge to stop her as she walked home from a friend's house in March 2021. 

Dash-cam footage from a passing bus caught him hand-cuffing Everard before putting her into the back of rental car to drive her to a location outside London, where he raped her and strangled her with his police duty belt, then burned her body.

WATCH | London police clash with vigil attendees: 

Several detained at Sarah Everard vigil

2 years ago
Duration 1:00
Several people were detained during a vigil for a woman murdered in London. The case that has caused widespread outrage in Britain about women's safety.

Met officers broke up Everard vigil

The murder sparked an enormous wave of horror and outrage across the United Kingdom. But the image of the Metropolitan Police sank even lower when officers moved in to break up a vigil for Everard. 

Police officials said the vigil was breaking COVID-19 rules banning large gatherings and that it had turned into an anti-police protest. 

The next day, newspapers were covered with front-page images of police constables holding a number of women down and handcuffing them.   

A red-headed woman wearing a face mask to protect against COVID-19 is held on the ground with her hands behind her back by multiple uniformed police officers.
Patsy Stevenson is arrested by Metropolitan Police at a March 13, 2021, London vigil for Everard, who was murdered by Met police officer Wayne Couzens. (James Veysey/Shutterstock)

Patsy Stevenson was one of them. She's been campaigning for women's rights ever since. 

"The past two years we've seen nothing happened," she said in an interview with CBC News. "We've seen a lot of empty promises, but I've not seen a change at all." 

After her photo was splashed across the media, Stevenson says she found herself being trolled on a dating app by men wearing police uniforms. 

"They said like, 'Oh, I'm an officer with handcuffs and no — not the fluffy kind,' and things like that." 

A young woman with long, red hair poses for a portrait.
Stevenson says that after she was photographed being held down by police at the vigil, she faced trolling on a dating app by men dressed in police uniforms. (Lily Martin/CBC)

Sandhu says she is "appalled" by the way Stevenson has been treated. 

"Because she was an innocent woman who went to pay her respects. And then afterwards, the trolling, the abuse that she got on social media from police officers is just totally unacceptable." 

More reports of disturbing behaviour by Met police

There have been several other reports of disturbing behaviour by Metropolitan Police in recent years.   

One, released last spring by the Independent Office for Police Conduct, a public body responsible for overseeing complaints made against police in England and Wales, found bullying, discrimination, toxic masculinity, misogyny and sexual harassment among some officers working from London's Charing Cross police station. 

"Clearly the issue just hasn't been dealt with," said Wistrich, with the Centre for Women's Justice, calling the current situation out of control. 

"This is illustrative of how bad things have been allowed to get, that there are so many officers who have not been properly investigated." 

A woman with short grey hair wearing a colourful scarf poses for a portrait.
Harriet Wistrich, a solicitor and the founding director of the Centre for Women's Justice in the U.K., says she wants to see accountability not just for officers who commit crimes, but for bystanders within the police force who have allowed misconduct to happen. (Lily Martin/CBC )

Carrick was actually accused of rape in the months not long after Couzens murdered Everard in March 2021. He was partially suspended, but allowed to return to work without further investigation when the woman who accused him withdrew co-operation from the investigation. 

It was Couzens being sentenced to life in prison in September 2021 that eventually pulled the thread that would expose Carrick's crimes, with publicity surrounding Couzens reportedly giving hope to one of Carrick's victims that she could accuse a police officer and be believed.

More accountability needed, critics say

But critics say redemption for the Metropolitan force will be a long time coming. 

Wistrich says the force must go beyond its current review of hundreds of potentially suspect officers. 

"It's accountability not just of obviously the officers who committed crimes and so on, but it's accountability of those who have been bystanders who've seen what's going on and let it happen." 

"I want action and I want it now," said Sandhu, who would like to see vetting processes for police officers handed to an independent body, not just for the Met but also for other forces in England and Wales. 

In the meantime, the very real prospect remains that even fewer women will be inclined to report a rape or a sexual assault than they have in the past. 

Five out of six women who are raped already don't report it, according to Rape Crisis, a charity working to end sexual abuse in England and Wales. Last April, the Home Affairs Committee reported that data from the year before until September 2021 showed just 1.3 per cent of recorded rape offences resulted in a charge or summons

Two women practise martial arts moves in a classroom.
Danni O'Halloran, right, practices a martial arts move with Leah Gimpel during a class in south London last week. (Lily Martin/CBC)

"The question that came to my mind with this latest case of the man who was able to perpetrate that many crimes against women was how many people along the way covered that up for him," said Danni O'Halloran, one of the other women taking the martial arts class in south London. 

"His crimes are terrible. But it's the institution that actively worked to cover up his misdeeds so consistently for such a long time. That is a problem with the system. It's not safe for women." 


Margaret Evans

Europe correspondent

Margaret Evans is a correspondent based in the CBC News London bureau. A veteran conflict reporter, Evans has covered civil wars and strife in Angola, Chad and Sudan, as well as the myriad battlefields of the Middle East.