Way back way back when the MacPherson inquiry was big news, one of the things that was fairly well-known but not in the headlines was that it wasn't just the racism - it was also the corruption. Specifically, suspect (and now convict) David Norris's dad, Clifford Norris, was a gangster who was believed to be paying policemen involved in the case for protection. This recent piece in the Indy explains the whole thing in some detail. The key player was one John Davidson, a detective on the South-East Regional Crime Squad based in East Dulwich, who was apparently the point-of-contact between Norris and the Met, as well as being a major figure in a network of corrupt detectives. Anyway, you really ought to go and read the whole thing, as it covers how the Met hierarchy kept the explosive details about Davidson out of the inquiry.
Clearly, it was considered better to be institutionally racist than it was to be institutionally corrupt. And, if you think back to the original (and very controversial at the time) definition Sir William Macpherson used, I think it's more than fair to describe the Met as being institutionally corrupt. As with racism, some elements of the force were especially bad and some were much better, but in general, the institution as a whole put up with the problem.
Now, something interesting. The officer who investigated Davidson, and who seems to have been very keen to prosecute him, was none other than John Yates, in a very different role to the one he played in the whole News International affair.
Then-Detective Superintendent John Yates, a senior CIB3 officer, targeted Davidson as one of 14 "core nominals" – detectives whose "criminality is extensive and, in essence, amounts to police officers operating as a professional organised crime syndicate", he explained in the case file.
Yates wrote to his superiors in blunt terms in October that year about the evidence he had found against Davidson: "It is now apparent that during his time at East Dulwich Davidson developed a corrupt informant/handler relationship. Their main commodity was Class A drugs, predominantly cocaine, however, Davidson and his informant would deal in all aspects of criminality when the opportunities presented themselves."
However, not very much of the information ever got to Macpherson, and Davidson was eventually allowed to take the traditional police escape hatch, retiring on grounds of ill-health and heading for the costas (he owns a bar on Menorca).
This is interesting, because I'm beginning to think that the response to Macpherson is a big part of the story. A really penetrating review of the Lawrence case would have turned up all sorts of dirt on the Met in South-East London, and specifically on the SERCS (which was already being investigated by Yates' internal-affairs group). That in turn would have caused all kinds of inconvenience. As a result, it was necessary to push back on the whole project of reforming the Met.
In the triangular relationship between the police, the press, and the politicians, this could be understood as an attempt by the politicians, using the press, to impose change on the police. The police seem to have responded by upgrading the police-News International relationship in order to pressure the politicians. Hence the campaigns that so-and-so wasn't "a copper's copper".
Interestingly, John Stevens seems to have been a special fascination for people like Alex Marunchak - News International kept spying on him after he was sent to Northern Ireland, and hired Philip Campbell Smith to target the only intelligence agent cooperating with the Stevens inquiry (who seems to have been Ian Hurst, to fill in the blank). Obviously, there was a direct journalistic interest in information about Freddie "Stakeknife" Scappaticci, but it's always struck me as weird that Hurst was able to identify that it was Smith specifically who got into his computer. Perhaps he's just good, or lucky, but I wonder whether the surveillance was meant to be discovered in the hope of intimidating him.
Making more of an effort on race didn't challenge how the police ran their business, and indeed created new opportunities for promotion and budget acquisition. It seems depressingly clear that doing more on corruption would have meant changing how a great chunk of London was policed and offending all kinds of powerful interests. So that's the one they picked. Getting there meant getting the support of News International to turn the politicians' attention, which meant running up obligations that would be called in later.
A corrupt informant/handler relationship, you might call it. Of course, the police and the politicians were still operating in the transactional or bargaining mode I described as The Project 1.0. But what was going to change between the late 1990s corruption inquiry and the 2006-onwards phone-hacking inquiry was the level of ambition involved. Murdoch, and the recovering Tory party, were looking at The Project 2.0, integrating News International people into the government spin machine, Conservative Central Office, and into the police press office directly.
Well, that's my mental model of the whole thing. It doesn't cover the 80s origins of the whole thing - Daniel Morgan's story, whatever it was, police-News International relations during Wapping (six months before the Morgan murder, and did you know the cop in charge was disgraced on theft charges?) - but for what it covers I think it's pretty clear.