Cressida Dick’s landmark appointment as first female boss of Scotland Yard makes her worth our focus as Woman of The Week.
Cressida Dick is the first woman to be the boss of Scotland Yard; the first to head a 31,000-member force in what is often considered the top police job in Britain. Her historic appointment is the most dramatic evidence so far of a transformational change in the sociology and direction of British policing. She is Shine’s Woman of the Week…
Cressida Rose Dick is one of three children born to Marcus William Dick, Senior Tutor at Balliol College, Oxford and Professor of Philosophy at the University of East Anglia, and Cecilia, a University of Oxford historian.
She was raised in Oxford and educated at the Dragon School, Oxford High School, Balliol College, University of Oxford and Fitzwilliam College, University of Cambridge.
After leaving university and before joining the police, she worked in a large accountancy firm, went travelling and had a number of jobs including working in a fish and chip shop.
Now considered to be one of the brightest police leaders of her generation, ‘Cress’ as she is affectionately known by her fellow officers, joined the Metropolitan Police in 1983 as a constable and and ten years later transferred to Thames Valley Police as a superintendent.
She was quickly promoted to Area Commander before, in 2001, she took a career break to study at Cambridge University, graduating with a Master of Philosophy in criminology and the highest mark in her class.
In June 2001, she returned to the Metropolitan Police as a Commander, where she was head of the Diversity Directorate, which at the time was grappling to overcome the ‘institutionally racist’ label that had emerged following the Macpherson report into the murder of Stephen Lawrence. Displaying a willingness to face uncomfortable truths head on, she gave an interview after two years in the job in which she admitted it was unlikely Scotland Yard would ever be entirely free from racism.
She then became the head of Operation Trident, which investigates gun crimes within London’s black community. Lee Jasper, who at the time was the Mayor of London’s Diversity Director and a regular critic of the police, admitted that he was hugely impressed by her qualities. He said her diminutive frame belied a steely temperament, adding: “She is not into flamboyant gestures but she is an exceptional officer and a tough cookie.”
In the immediate aftermath of 21 July 2005 London bombings, she was the Gold Commander in the control room during the operation, which led to the death of the Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes, wrongly identified as a potential suicide bomber. In the aftermath of the incident, Ms Dick was resolute that the officers had acted in accordance with the information they had at the time. She said: “If you ask me whether I think anybody did anything wrong or unreasonable on the operation, I don’t think they did.”
“I set out that morning to protect the people of London, and to save people, the last thing I wanted to do is to have an innocent person shot. But that’s what happened. I regret it deeply. It is a terrible thing to have happened.” Her colleagues said the episode, while incredibly tragic, showed her qualities as a leader and someone who would stand firm under pressure.
In 2006, she was promoted to Deputy Assistant Commissioner, Specialist Operations, in 2009 the to Assistant Commissioner, in charge of the Specialist Crime Directorate and 2011, Assistant Commissioner, Specialist Operations following the resignation of John Yates in the wake of the phone hacking scandal.
In February 2013, she was assessed as one of the 100 most powerful women in the United Kingdom by Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4.
After being awarded the Queen’s Police Medal for distinguished service, it was announced in December 2014 that she would retire from the police to join the Foreign Office. It looked like she had given up hope of ever becoming the force’s first female Commissioner. In an interview to mark her departure she said she hoped a woman would be appointed to the top job one day, adding that such a move would “send a strong message” that Scotland Yard was “modern and representative”.
She was appointed CBE in the 2015 New Year Honours for services to policing.
At the start of this year the Home Office and the Metropolitan Police jointly announced that she would be appointed as the next Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police by the Queen, after a round of interviews in front of the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd and London Mayor, Sadiq Khan.
Telegraph journalist Mary Dejevsky commented: “The appointment of Cressida Dick as the first female head of the Metropolitan police has been greeted, rightly, as a landmark. I will not be alone in watching closely to see what difference – if any – it makes to have a (highly competent) woman at the helm of an organisation which remains, with its notorious “canteen culture”, still a boys’ club in so many ways.”
A source said she had been appointed, not because she was a woman, but because she was the best candidate, and the Mayor had been especially impressed with her qualities. In a statement, Ms Dick said she was “thrilled and humbled” by the appointment.
She said: “This is a great responsibility and an amazing opportunity. I’m looking forward immensely to protecting and serving the people of London and working again with the fabulous women and men of the Met. “Thank you so much to everyone who has taught me and supported me along the way.”