Sue Fish: the ex-police chief who fights to cease misogynist cops | UK information

On the day Sarah Everard’s killer admitted to her kidnap, rape and homicide, the Metropolitan police commissioner, Cressida Dick, was talking about violence in opposition to girls and women. “Every now and then,” she admitted of her drive, “I’ve a nasty ’un.” This was, maybe, an try to reassure the general public that Wayne Couzens, who killed Everard whereas serving as a Met police officer, was an anomaly.

Sue Fish shouldn’t be reassured. Fish spent her complete profession within the police, working her means as much as turn into Nottinghamshire chief constable, earlier than retiring in 2017. “The overwhelming majority of law enforcement officials are unbelievable,” she says. “[But] there are a big minority who’re drawn to it due to the facility, and the potential that you just’ve acquired to abuse that energy. I’ve seen it time and time once more, by my service.”

As a survivor of abuse by the hands of fellow officers, she says the erosion of belief within the police’s capability to guard girls and women is “what I’ve felt to a higher or lesser diploma for a few years, having been a police officer”. What she noticed in her skilled capability, “the general public has seen on a a lot grander scale, on a extra graphic scale”. She factors out that marginalised communities and other people of color have been conscious of this for a very long time, however now a broader swathe of individuals are experiencing it.

Fish didn’t intend to turn into a campaigner. However, upon retiring, she felt that forsaking a policing tradition that doesn’t name out the inappropriate behaviour of colleagues and “simply shrugs its shoulders and appears the opposite means” would do a higher detriment to the job and repair she loves. She now runs a consultancy that campaigns on girls’s security.


Fish did radical work within the drive. In 2016, she was the primary chief constable to report misogyny as a hate crime, which she says is a primary step in tackling violence in opposition to girls and women: “It sends such a robust message that this behaviour shouldn’t be acceptable and there might be penalties.” After her retirement, Fish was concerned in a paper suggesting the scheme ought to be rolled out nationally, which was put to the Nationwide Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) in 2018. “Sara Thornton [then the chair of the NPCC] and Cressida Dick had been two of probably the most instrumental folks in ensuring it didn’t occur. I believe that injustice to girls is what has pushed me to say I’m not ready to permit poor policing to be acceptable,” says Fish.

It had by no means occurred to her – not as soon as, even in childhood video games – {that a} job within the police could be an attention-grabbing factor to do till a college careers adviser prompt it. She was finding out historical past and politics and watched associates go into high-paying jobs within the Metropolis. “I needed one thing that felt far more demanding, was not simply sitting in an workplace, and requested lots of you personally,” she says. “Policing ticked all my packing containers. It was thrilling. I didn’t know if I might do it; it was difficult bodily, emotionally, mentally. It has been all of these issues and extra.”

When she joined, in 1986, she was ready to expertise sexism; she had already seen what feminine associates who went into the Metropolis had been going by. But it surely quickly grew to become clear that, within the police, there have been completely different guidelines completely for ladies. Her first chief constable didn’t prefer to make use of married girls (who would quickly go away to have kids, he believed), but additionally didn’t approve of girls who “lived in sin” with a boyfriend; Fish stated she was engaged, which appeared acceptable to him.

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As a younger “girl police constable” – as they had been referred to as till 1999 – there have been quite a few events on which she felt undermined. Her uniform shirt was skinny, white and pretty clear; on a whim, she says, the inspector would give the order for everybody to put on “shirt sleeves”. “You’ll be able to think about what occurred” on colder days, she says.

She knew of feminine colleagues who had left the drive after being assaulted. The primary time it occurred to her, she had risen to the rank of inspector and says she was touched inappropriately by a senior officer. She didn’t inform anybody, as a result of she had felt “humiliated and silly”.

The second time it occurred, she was an assistant chief constable and at a resort bar in London with among the most senior folks in policing. A fellow senior officer “touched me fairly inappropriately. I froze and went: ‘This will’t be occurring.’” She left and went to her resort room. Quickly afterwards, she instructed her chief constable and there was an “casual intervention”. “I needed him to recognise what he’d achieved, its affect on me and to make it actually clear to him that he should not behave like that to anybody else.”

However, she provides, it was actually laborious to inform folks it had occurred. “I routinely was doing that victim-blaming bit: I shouldn’t have been in a resort bar, I shouldn’t have been the one girl there, I shouldn’t have been attempting to community professionally with individuals who needed to behave like that. When will I study my place? Not solely are you not within the males’s room having the conversations with them, however you may’t be in social areas with them, as a result of that’s not an appropriate place for you.”

Fish has stated that earlier than she would suppose twice about reporting a sexual assault. “I simply couldn’t bear the considered reliving it, being judged by the police, the Crown Prosecution Service,” she says now. “And if, miracle upon miracle, it went to court docket [only 1.6% of reported rapes lead to a charge], having to undergo that course of. I’d prefer to suppose I used to be ready to do this, however I’m actually undecided.”

‘The stress of the tradition is to not hear and never be keen to listen to’ … Fish led Nottinghamshire police till 2017. {Photograph}: Courtesy of Sue Fish

When Fish was a younger officer, she confronted a senior officer after he got here into the interview room, the place she was fastidiously taking a press release from a girl who had reported rape. “He began yelling at her that she’d actually agreed to it and he or she appreciated it a bit tough, she was simply making it up. It was completely horrible, simply watching her utter humiliation.” Afterwards, Fish went into his workplace and shouted at him. “I believe I used to be nonetheless in my probation, however I used to be simply so offended,” she says. “And he stated: ‘I’m simply testing, as a result of it will likely be in court docket.’ I believe that’s a very flawed argument, however who did he suppose he was to do this?”

Fish was round male officers who would use weak girls with whom that they had come into contact by the job for intercourse, generally throughout working hours. As a probationary officer, she would wait within the panda automobile alone whereas one officer went right into a home for intercourse. Did she ever attempt to report it? “It was so regular,” she says. “It was virtually as if there was nothing improper with it. It appeared horrifying to me, however everybody else thought it was regular, so what had been you reporting? And then you definately begin to suppose: ‘Am I regular? Possibly it’s me that’s improper.’”

It was not simple to talk out – and that’s nonetheless true, Fish says. “The stress of the tradition is to not hear and never be keen to listen to. Whistleblowing wasn’t a factor then – and even when it was, the results, personally in addition to professionally, had been monumental. It was implicit – folks telling tales about so-and-so as virtually a warning.”

There are additionally extra nuanced the reason why colleagues don’t report one another. “You’re employed with these folks each day; you additionally see some good issues that they do in addition to the dreadful issues. They aren’t universally dangerous folks, so it may be laborious to get that impetus, or no matter it’s that it takes, to really name it out. But in addition, wanting again in my profession, by the 80s and 90s, [instances such as sex on the job] had been normalised and virtually worn as a badge of delight for some.”

Like the concept of the “dangerous ’un”, it’s tempting to view such behaviour as one thing that occurred solely in earlier many years, however it’s nonetheless occurring. This week, the Instances revealed that, up to now 4 years, greater than 2,000 law enforcement officials have been accused of sexual misconduct, together with rape. In Fish’s later years at Nottinghamshire, male officers had been sending “dick pics” to feminine colleagues. Extra lately, a girl who was arrested by the Met at a vigil for Everard stated she had been approached by male law enforcement officials on the relationship app Tinder, whereas an officer guarding the search space after Everard’s homicide was taken off obligation after allegedly sending colleagues an offensive graphic on WhatsApp. It’s laborious to not suspect a widespread disrespect for ladies’s lives.

In 2012, when Fish was an assistant chief constable, certainly one of her officers, Simon Jones, was convicted of getting intercourse with weak victims. “He selected girls who had been home abuse victims, who had medication or alcohol dependency points – in different phrases, ‘unreliable’, versus him, an upholder of the legislation, a protector of individuals. So who was going to be a greater witness in court docket? And really, he wasn’t.”

A vigil for Sarah Everard in Nottingham in March 2021
‘The tradition nonetheless feels actually troublesome for somebody who calls one thing out’ … a vigil for Sarah Everard, who was murdered in March by a serving police officer. {Photograph}: Nathan Stirk/Getty Pictures

There are chilling echoes of Couzens – Jones had additionally transferred and had had a nickname in his earlier drive. He was referred to as “pervert”; there have been studies that Couzens was referred to as “the rapist”. Her vetting workforce, says Fish, “had been devastated that they hadn’t acquired this data that was recognized about in his earlier drive”.

She fears the identical might have occurred with Couzens. “Regardless of the very fact we’ve refined whistleblower strains, so in idea we’ve acquired help, the tradition nonetheless feels actually troublesome for somebody who calls one thing out. Individuals don’t come ahead.” Rumours and “banter” might really feel insignificant, says Fish, however there must be a “mechanism to assist colleagues say: ‘I’m anxious about that.’” She offers a small chortle. “As a result of law enforcement officials are actually good at figuring out who’s a legal.”

As an alternative, she says, many law enforcement officials are likely to hold considerations to themselves or “at greatest between their shift”. For instance, she says, officers might transfer shifts in order to not must work with sure colleagues as a substitute of reporting them to somebody who might intervene. Consequently, she says, they might find yourself “giving licence” to severe legal behaviour. “With Jones – and I can consider different colleagues as properly – one thing wasn’t proper about them.”


Last week, Boris Johnson overruled makes an attempt to make public sexual harassment a particular offence, with one House Workplace supply saying the prime minister had lowered the problem to mere “wolf-whistling”. In a single interview, Johnson referred to “very actual crimes” equivalent to rape and home abuse. “Hiya, these which might be reported as a part of misogyny are ‘actual crimes’,” says Fish, exasperatedly. “They’re on the present statute books.”

However crimes equivalent to indecent publicity usually are not taken severely sufficient, she says, although we all know they’ll escalate – one evaluation discovered that as much as 10% of “flashers” later dedicated sexual offences involving bodily contact. “That is about diminishing the fact of girls’s expertise. And it signifies that males usually are not intervened with and that sample of escalation, that sample of legal dangerous behaviour, isn’t interrupted. And in order that sense of invincibility and no consequence for them is there – however there are large penalties for these whom they offend in opposition to.”

It has emerged that Couzens had a historical past of indecent publicity. Had he not taken that horrific ultimate step, “he would nonetheless be carrying a gun round London. If he had simply saved on flashing, utilizing prostitutes and excessive pornography, I believe he’d nonetheless be [in his job]. And that’s actually stunning.”

That is what she means, she says, about all the tradition – in policing and in society. “This isn’t about one dangerous apple. That is a few tradition that allows apples to go off with out sanction. Loads of policing doesn’t fairly get it. I’ve seen some promising indicators in some forces, with some leaders who’re actually attempting to grasp, so I believe there’s hope. I completely imagine that that is the time for change.”

Fish says the work her drive began round sexual misconduct and violence in opposition to girls and women is “basically vital to reshaping policing”. Along with working a consultancy campaigning on girls’s security, she supplies management coaching and public talking; she has suggested numerous police forces.

She is supportive of a renewed try to make misogyny a hate crime, which Johnson opposes, and he or she would love there to be a public inquiry into “institutionalised misogyny” within the police that’s on a statutory footing. The inquiry introduced by Priti Patel, the house secretary, is “like a fairy step in the appropriate route – however with out the facility to compel witnesses, I simply suppose it’s type of a tick in a field. I believe it’s lip service, that ‘hopefully these shouty girls will go away quickly’. And we’re not going away.

“I’ve seen probably the most superb policing, and I’ve seen the worst, and I do know which one the general public wants,” she says. “As a member of the general public who now receives policing, slightly than delivers it, I need me, my daughters and my granddaughter to have the identical high quality of policing that my husband and my son anticipate as males.”

Within the UK, Rape Disaster presents help for rape and sexual abuse on 0808 802 9999 in England and Wales, 0808 801 0302 in Scotland and 0800 0246 991 in Northern Eire. Within the US, Rainn presents help on 800-656-4673. In Australia, help is accessible at 1800Respect (1800 737 732). Different worldwide helplines may be discovered right here.

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