Labour’s Harriet Harman has called for Cressida Dick to resign as chief of the Metropolitan Police after Wayne Couzens was sentenced to a whole-life order for the murder, rape and kidnapping of Sarah Everard. He is the first police officer to receive such a sentence. In a letter to the Commissioner, Harman writes that ‘women’s confidence in the police will have been shattered’ by the case and that it is ‘not possible for you [Dick] to lead’ the changes necessary in the force following this case.
It is significant that Harman has called for Dick to go. She is not a bandwagon politician and does not tend to call for scalps, even in high-profile cases such as this. But she, like many of her colleagues, feels that there is a systemic problem in the Metropolitan Police and that the force is simply not facing up to the implications of the case. Indeed, many of the statements from the Met in the past few weeks and months have emphasised that Couzens is a ‘former’ officer, a sleight of hand which ignores that not only was Couzens part of the force when he committed his crimes, but that he also used his job and its paraphernalia as a key part of the kidnap. More problematic for the force still is that there were a number of red flags about Couzens stretching back years – including well before he was hired in 2018. Harman makes this point in a second letter to Priti Patel, arguing that trust ‘cannot be rebuilt with the attempt to reassure that this was just, as the Metropolitan Police Commissioner said, one “bad’un”’.
In her letter to Patel, Harman also lists the changes she thinks the Met will need to make. They include much lower thresholds for suspending serving officers when allegations are made against them, as well as scrutiny during the recruitment and screening process of officers’ attitudes to violence against women including violence during sex. You can read both letters below.
Dick was reappointed for another two years as Met Commissioner only earlier this month, with Patel arguing she ‘will provide continuity and stability as we emerge from the coronavirus pandemic’. Campaigners had accused her of presiding over ‘a culture of incompetence and cover-up’ and had demanded Patel and Boris Johnson replace her after her original term ends in April 2022.
Sarah Everard’s death caused such shockwaves in British society that it was impossible for the police and politicians to stay away from it. This is not just because of the visceral reaction of so many women to a case that so many of them can relate to in their own fears about trying to go about their own business. It is also because of those missed opportunities to intervene, which are not unique to Couzens. In so many cases, whether involving a police officer or not, there are red flags about a man’s behaviour long before he turns to sexual violence and murder. Whether or not Dick feels she should take responsibility for the fact that her force was overlooked those warnings, she will have to provide an answer, not just regarding what happened in this case, but about how she will change things to ensure that similar failings don’t lead to another case.
Harriet Harman’s letter to Cressida Dick
Following the heartbreaking and horrifying killing of Sarah Everard by a serving Metropolitan Police officer, women’s confidence in the police will have been shattered. Women need to be confident that the police are there to make them safe, not to put them at risk. Women need to be able to trust the police, not to fear them.
I have written to the Home Secretary to set out a number of actions which must be taken to rebuild the shattered confidence of women in the police service
I think it is not possible for you to lead these necessary actions in the Metropolitan Police. I am sure that you must recognise this, and I ask you to resign to enable these changes to be taken through and for women to be able to have justified confidence in the police.
Harriet Harman QC MP
Harriet Harman’s letter to Priti Patel
I am writing to you following the horrifying and heartbreaking evidence that has come out in the sentencing hearing of Wayne Couzens for the killing of Sarah Everard.
Women must be able to have confidence in the police. They must be able to trust them, not fear them. A serving police officer abducted Sarah Everard using his powers of arrest in order to then rape and kill her. The confidence of women in the police will have been shattered. It is clear that there had been all too many warning signs about him which had been swept under the carpet. It cannot be rebuilt with the attempt to reassure that this was just, as the Metropolitan Police Commissioner said, one “bad’un”.
Women’s confidence in the police can only be rebuilt with substantive and immediate change and so I propose the following:
1. All serving officers against whom there is an allegation of violence against a woman must be suspended.
2. There must be a new rule that there is immediate suspension of any officer against whom an allegation of violence against a woman is made.
3. On conviction or admission of an offence of violence against women an officer must be immediately dismissed from the force.
4. As part of the pre-screening of recruits to the police there must be a scrutiny of their attitudes to violence against women including engagement of violence during sex.
5. There must be fresh checks on any officer who transfers between forces for allegations of violence against women.
6. All current serving officers must complete a course which teaches them to examine their own attitudes to violence against women and recognise signs in their colleagues.
7. Failing to report a fellow officer for an allegation of violence against women must be treated as gross misconduct leading to dismissal.
I think it is impossible for the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick to oversee this programme and I have therefore called on her to resign.
Harriet Harman QC MP<//>
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