Amber Rudd says she was unaware of the extent of misogyny within the police when she was home secretary.
The former cabinet minister, who held the position under Theresa May until she resigned in 2018 over the Windrush Scandal, said she was among many who were “surprised” by the problem.
Her comments came as she was asked on Sky’s The Great Debate whether she had any sense of the misogynistic culture among police officers when she was home secretary.
Ms Rudd said: “I have to say I didn’t and I think a lot of people who know the Met well and other police forces well have been surprised at the level.”
The former home secretary went on to say: “There is a real problem. It feels even worse that it’s among the police.
“There is a real job – a vital job – to clean up the police,” she added.
The panel of guests were also asked if people can trust the police since it emerged former officer Wayne Couzens kidnapped and murdered Sarah Everard after a false arrest.
Ms Rudd said: “The police have acknowledged, and Cressida Dick has acknowledged, that trust has been broken. I think we all know why and they need to rebuild it.
“The thing that I found following the devastating murder almost as shocking was the catalogue of errors had been made and the incidents that had been taken lightly like the indecent exposure and the description of a WhatsApp exchange where police officers were exchanging misogynistic messages.”
Her comments came as former officer Paige Kimberly told Sky News the Metropolitan Police failed to investigate allegations that a WhatsApp group used by staff had become “sexualised and derogatory towards women”.
Ms Rudd said: “We got a picture of a group of misogynistic police officers, which is where you start leading up to some sort of violence,” before adding that male violence “doesn’t happen in a vacuum”.
Colin Sutton, former Senior investigating officer with the Metropolitan Police, told the show that recent events has “dented” police trust.
But he also said: “I don’t think people in the leadership in the police were aware.”
“It was something I wasn’t aware of when I was a reasonably middle-ranking position in the police,” he added. “But then WhatsApp things weren’t a thing then. It needs reviewing.”
However, equality activist Femi Otitoju later criticised the suggestion that people weren’t aware of misogyny within forces.
She told the show she would warn youngsters that they have to be careful with their interactions with the police.
Ms Otitoju added: “It is practically criminal that these people can sit here and say: ‘I had no idea that it was like that'”