Anyone following the court appearance of PCs Jamie Lewis and Deniz Jaffer at the Old Bailey last week could be forgiven for not believing what they were reading.
Two police officers, the very people the public are supposed to look to for safety, pleaded guilty to misconduct in public office after taking photographs of murdered sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman when their bodies were discovered at Fryent Country Park in London in June last year.
Lewis, 33, and Jaffer, 47, will appear in the dock again next month for sentencing, with the judge, Mark Lucraft QC, saying it is “extremely likely” that they will receive long custodial sentences.
But even after Lewis and Jaffer are sentenced and the media turns its attention elsewhere, the nation is left grappling with a hideous truth: two police officers sent to guard a murder scene saw fit to take photographs of two women who had been stabbed to death. They then shared the images with colleagues and friends, some of whom didn’t report them.
Mina Smallman, Nicole and Bibaa’s mother and the first Black woman to serve as an archdeacon of the Church of England, described “letting out a howl that came from the core of my soul” when she learned of her daughters’ deaths.
It’s impossible to imagine how much her grief was compounded when she learned how two Metropolitan Police officers had behaved at the scene of the crime, before sharing images of her daughters with more than 40 others in a WhatsApp group called the “A-team”.
In an interview last year, Smallman compared what had been done to her daughters to lynchings in the Deep South, “when you would see smiling faces around a hanging dead body”.
But this wasn’t in South Carolina in the Jim Crow era. This was last summer, in our capital city.
The Met had already apologised for failing to start searching for Smallman, 27, and Henry, 46, for more than 12 hours after they were reported missing. Instead, friends and family of the two sisters formed their own search party. It was Smallman’s boyfriend, Adam Stone, who found the bodies.
The actions of the Met in the wake of Smallman and Henry’s deaths have added layers of pain to already unbearable circumstances.
More than 20 years since the Macpherson report found the force to be institutionally racist, two Black women were afforded no dignity in death by those who had sworn to protect them. Their families will carry that agony forever.
And for the rest of us, it leaves the question: can we trust the police?
The Times recently revealed that a group of serving police officers are under investigation by the IOPC for allegedly sharing misogynistic and racist messages on a WhatsApp group with Wayne Couzens before he killed Sarah Everard.
This isn’t just about one bad apple. Last week Smallman stood outside court and called on the Met to “get the rot out for once and for all”.
Until the country’s largest police force weeds out the misogyny and racism that blights its ranks, there can be no justice.
Saskia Murphy is a Manchester-based freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter @SaskiaMurphy
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