Openness is crucial to win back public trust

Posted On 13 Oct 2021 at 2:02 pm

It should be obvious that public trust is of the utmost importance. Yet when I was Home Secretary it was clear that levels of trust, particularly among some sectors of society, weren’t where they should be.

That is why I introduced measures to improve transparency, and key among them was the requirement that misconduct hearings should be held in public.

The reasoning was straightforward. While the vast majority of police officers serve with honesty and integrity, there are those who don’t operate to the same high standards.

Opening up the disciplinary process gives the public confidence that the system is fair and that corrupt officers, or those guilty of misconduct, will be held to account.

This shouldn’t have been a controversial step, which is why it is immensely disappointing to learn that more than six years on a number of forces appear unwilling to open themselves up to scrutiny.

According to the results of an investigation by The Times, too many hearings are still being held in private and the process of notifying the public of the results of those hearings is still worryingly opaque.

It leaves the impression that the police, whose job it is to protect the public, are prioritising the reputation of the institution over the delivery of justice.

This is not a new problem. It is a deep-rooted and long-standing issue of which there are many examples: Hillsborough, the investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence and the murder of Daniel Morgan.

The inquiry into the death of Mr Morgan, which I commissioned, found that the Met repeatedly failed to face up to the failings in the investigation and it concluded that “concealing or denying failings, for the sake of the organisation’s public image” constitutes a form of institutional corruption.

It made a series of recommendations which must be looked at alongside the new inquiry into the appalling murder of Sarah Everard.

As well as looking at the specifics of the case, the inquiry will look more widely at professional standards and discipline as well as the culture within the police.

It would be wrong to pre-empt their work but I would imagine transparency, or the perceived lack of it, to be one of the issues they address.

Surely now it is time for the police to properly ensure that where instances of corruption and misconduct do occur, they are rooted out with vigour on every occasion – and that this is done openly for all to see.

Theresa May is the Conservative MP for Maidenhead and former Prime Minister and Home Secretary.

This article is reproduced with kind permission from The Times.

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