Social Justice

Sarah Everard inquiry: Cops accused of violence against women must be suspended, government told

Failures to stop Wayne Couzens included not following up on an allegation of indecent exposure, a landmark inquiry has found

sarah everard vigil

Sarah Everard was murdered by Met Police officer Wayne Couzens in March 2021. Image: Met Police

The government has been urged to automatically suspend police officers accused of violence against women and girls, after a landmark report into the murder of Sarah Everard found there is “nothing to stop another Couzens operating in plain sight” without a significant overhaul.

Lady Elish Angiolini’s report, commissioned in the wake of Everard’s death, found a failure to investigate accusations against Wayne Couzens, including those of sexual assault and indecent exposure. Couzens was also accused of a knifepoint kidnapping in 2015 and sexual assault of a child “barely in her teens.”

Home secretary James Cleverly announced automatic suspension of any officer charged with a criminal offence, in response to the inquiry’s publication. But women’s charity Refuge called on the government to go further.

“Almost three years on from Sarah’s murder we are still talking about rooting out rogue officers in policing and Refuge has long been calling on the government to create fundamental change in policing,” Amy Bowdrey, policy and public affairs officer at Refuge said.

“Refuge is calling on the government to act, our message is clear: suspend officers and staff in policing accused of any form of violence against women and girls pending quick and thorough investigation. Vetting standards are far too low and must be urgently pulled up to standard, there should be zero tolerance to misogyny within policing, the consequences for women and girls are far too high.” 

Three separate police forces could and should have stopped Couzens, Angiolini found, but all failed to do so. This included a failure to check the Police National Database when he was applying to become an armed officer with the Met – had such a check been made, the Met would have seen an allegation of indecent exposure.

Her 16 recommendations included a call for a “step change” in how police respond to indecent exposure offences, to stop them escalating.

“Victims deserve to have their cases investigated properly, each and every time,” Angiolini said in a press conference marking the release of the first part of the report.

In one case, a witness had seen a man driving a car while indecently exposing himself. They gave police the make, model, colour and registration number of the car. Kent Police found it was Wayne Couzens’ car, but closed the case without speaking to Couzens or any further witnesses.

“The report must make devastating reading for the family of Sarah Everard who know now that her murderer could have been stopped many times before the ultimate horrific outcome,” Harriet Wistrich, solicitor and director of the Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ), which has campaigned for the inquiry to be given statutory powers, said.

“Its recommendations must of course be acted on not just by the Met police but by all forces across the country. In addition, as the work CWJ has undertaken on police perpetrated abuse makes clear, there need to be far more effective mechanisms for accountability not only of police perpetrators but of those who fail to report wrong doing and of managers who fail to stamp out misogynistic culture within policing units.”

Alongside specific failures to stop Couzens, Angiolini found that his working environment “ did nothing to discourage his misogynistic view of women.”

The second part of Angiolini’s inquiry will examine broader issues raised by both the Sarah Everard case and the case of former police officer David Carrick.

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