Police at a recent student demonstration (Photo by Oscar Webb)
The feeling that London's Metropolitan Police are above the law is nothing new. Whether it's battering protesters or the disturbing number of people who die in their custody, the police seem to be get away with things all too often.
Using new data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, VICE can reveal hard evidence of just how unaccountable the Met Police are.
According to the data, just ten officers have been dismissed by the Met over claims of assaulting members of the public – including sexual assault – since 2006, despite 22,944 complaints being made.
Of the 22,944 allegations of assault that were made from 2006 to the first few months of 2015, only 133 were found to be substantiated following an investigation by a police officer. That works out as just over or half a percent. In other words, 99.4 percent of the time the Met investigated its own officers for assault, they found that there wasn't really anything to complain about.
Here's how those numbers look:
All Graphics by Georgia Weisz
For the same period, 154,158 complaints were made about the conduct of officers by members of the public. Just 1.1 percent of those complaints, or 1,747, were found to be substantiated. Only 41 officers were dismissed following a complaint about conduct – or 0.03 percent.
Again, those numbers look pretty stark:
Here's the percentage of complaints that were found to be substantiated. The big blue ball that doesn't fit on the graphic is the percentage of complaints that were deemed unsubstantiated:
Even when cases were substantiated, that didn't mean that action would necessarily follow. In assault cases that were found to be substantiated, 20 saw no further action taken against officers. Of the more than 1,700 conduct complaints found to be substantiated, no further action was taken in 254 cases.
This data has sparked fresh claims that the Met cannot be trusted to investigate its own alleged misdeeds, and comes after a spate of negative news stories about the force.
In October, the Guardian revealed that no racial discrimination complaints made against Met Police officers had been upheld in a 12-month period, despite 240 allegations being made. This is hardly reassuring when even Met chief Bernard Hogan-Howe admitted in June that claims that the force is institutionally racist have "some justification".
Complaints have been on the up, too. Weeks earlier, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) revealed it received 37,105 complaints in 2014/15 – a 6 percent increase on the previous year. This is a record for the body since it came into being in 2004.
The IPCC warned there were wide discrepancies in the way forces handled complaints, with some probing 70 percent, while others used more informal procedures known as "local resolutions" in the majority of cases; where police officers call or meet with complainants in a bid to resolve their grievances in minor cases.
Of the 29,444 allegations of assault made against officers since 2006, 3,556 were dealt with using local resolutions.
Lana Adamou, a solicitor at Bindman's, law firm which specialises in actions against the police, said that VICE's data demonstrated the Met's unwillingness to hold its officers to account.
"Sadly, these figures are unsurprising and certainly reflect the experiences of the majority of our clients," she said. "It is no wonder that there is little public confidence in a protectionist system which allows the police to investigate itself and decide what, if any, sanctions to impose on its errant members."
"These figures demonstrate the Met's unwillingness to hold its own officers to account and weed out those who are not fit for job, despite paying lip service to this time and time again, including in the aftermath of the 2011 disturbances in London. In the face of such damning empirical evidence, it is surely time for the police complaints system to be overhauled, and for all complaints to be dealt with independently."
Omar Mohamud, 33, was one of those 154,158 to file a complaint, after he was beaten up on a night bus in North London three years ago and officers failed to help.
Mohamud was born in Somalia, but migrated to the UK aged seven with his family. He remembers being violently attacked and racially abused by a group of around ten white men and women as he and a friend were coming back from a night out in central London.
When police arrived on the scene just outside Wood Green tube station, Omar had suffered cuts to his face and body, his clothes were torn and he had been partially knocked out. He had been forced to curl up into a ball to protect himself from the kicks and punches of his attackers.
"I told the officers that I had been attacked, that I had been racially abused. But the police were more interested in knowing what the attackers had said, specifically, what was racist," he said.
"At this point, I had head injuries, so I was dizzy, but they kept asking me the same question again and again. Then they asked me for my name and my details, which I thought was fine. I thought they were going to use that information to help in the case against my attackers. But then they asked if I had ever been in trouble with the police before – whether I had anything I shouldn't have."
At the same time, Mohamud said another officer spoke to his attackers "like they were buddies". He was later told he would be arrested if he didn't go home.
With Mohamud in urgent need of medical help, the officers left the scene, having made no arrests, leaving Mohamud and his friend in the vicinity of their attackers. Police radio records have since revealed that the officers cancelled a request for an ambulance to take Mohammud to hospital.
After leaving hospital three days after the incident, Mohamud was keen to make a complaint against the officers involved, as well as pursuing criminal action against his attackers. He connected with Sophie Naftalin, a lawyer with Bhatt Murphy, who represented him throughout the case and whom Mohamud credits for enabling him to carry on with his complaint."
But as the three officers who arrived on the scene had also failed to log the incident as a crime, never mind their failure to collect forensic evidence, make any arrests, review CCTV footage of the incident and talk to witnesses; no effective criminal investigation could be launched against the perpetrators.
It took Mohamud two and a half years to get what he describes as "partial justice" for what he suffered. His police complaint was partially upheld. The three officers involved were only disciplined for failure to record the matter as a crime and the other charges were dropped.
The investigator looking at this case concluded at the outset that his allegation of discrimination against the officers was unfounded. The investigator ruled that the police's failings in Mohamud's case were not racially motivated.
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The group of white men and women had accused Mohamud of attacking them with a belt, which he says he did to defend himself, so the investigating officer reasoned that as "their allegations received the same poor level of response as Mr Mohamud's had... that leads me to conclude that there is insufficient evidence to prove that any of the officers acted discriminatorily". In effect, because Mohamud's white attackers had also received shoddy treatment from the officers, there was no discrimination case for them to answer for.
Mohamud later issued a claim for race discrimination and breaches of his human rights at Central London County Court, which was eventually settled out of court by the Metropolitan Police. He also received an apology from the force.
A spokesperson from the Met told VICE: "The MPS treats each occasion when an allegation of misconduct is made about a member of its staff very seriously and fully investigates in every case to determine whether a criminal offence or a breach of the standards of behaviour has taken place.
"Where, on examination of the available evidence, the conduct of our officers is found to have fallen below the standards expected, the MPS will take robust action, either by pursuing criminal prosecution, misconduct proceedings, or both.
"All MPS employees are expected to conduct themselves professionally, ethically and with the utmost integrity at all times."
It's not a response that's likely to satisfy those who have already been left severely wanting by the complaints system. Mohamud has now left London, having grown tired of the city he was raised in.
"I wanted to get away from all this," he told me. "The whole way the complaint procedure is set up is to discourage you from making a complaint. But there are people who can help, so you have to keep at it," he said.
"I would have loved to have seen my attackers held responsible. I would have loved to have seen the police held accountable. But I have partial justice.
"The police are supposed to be there to protect us. But if we can't trust them to protect us, then people will lose hope. This ridiculous system can't help that."
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