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Home Secretary Says Police Will Be Automatically Suspended For "Certain Criminal Offences"

Sarah Everard was murdered by a serving Met Police officer in 2021 (Alamy)

4 min read

Home Secretary James Cleverly has announced that police officers charged with certain criminal offences will be automatically suspended, in response to a damning report investigating the circumstances surrounding the rape and murder of Sarah Everard in 2021.

The Home Secretary gave a statement to the House of Commons to mark the launch of the first part of the Angiolini Inquiry. The report stated that given the multiple warning signs over many years, former Met Police officer Wayne Couzens, who abducted, raped and murdered Everard in 2021, should never have been a police officer.

It made several recommendations, particularly around improving workplace culture within police forces, such as ensuring sufficient and appropriate resources are dedicated to supporting those who make complaints against officers, providing dedicated reporting processes for women in police forces who experience inappropriate behaviour, and examining the conditions of female officers and staff in order to encourage more women to join the police. 

Cleverly announced that police officers charged with certain criminal offences will now receive an automatic suspension, in an effort to demonstrate a zero-tolerance approach to misconduct across forces in the UK. Last year, the government announced that officers would be automatically suspended if they were found to have committed gross misconduct.

Cleverly promised that the government will issue a "prompt" official response to the report, and said that the government was already taking action to address public confidence in the police, including providing funding to the National Police Chief's Council to develop an automated system for flagging intelligence about officers and changing the rules to make it easier for forces to remove those who cannot hold the minimum level of clearance.

"It is appalling that reports of indecent exposure by Couzens were not taken sufficiently seriously by the police and the officers were not adequately trained, equipped or motivated to properly investigate," Cleverly said on Thursday.

"Police forces must keep improving and must command the confidence of the people that they serve. And it's imperative that police leadership of whatever rank plays their part in this endeavour.

"We are changing the law so that rapists will serve their full sentence behind bars with no option of release at the two thirds point. And anyone who commits murder with a sexual or sadistic element will spend the rest of their days in prison."

Lady Elish Angiolini, the chair of the inquiry, said that she hoped "those in authority in every police force" read the report and "feel galvanised to continue, and to accelerate, the work required to identify individuals who should not be part of any police force or in a position of public authority".

"As long as vile behaviour and deeply abusive language are normalised and accepted as ‘banter’ in policing culture and elsewhere, people like Couzens will be able to continue to commit atrocious crimes undetected," she said.

"Many will say that Couzens’ crimes are a world away from the sexist and misogynistic behaviour that exists within policing, but they sit on the same continuum. Policing needs to grasp fully the extent of the cultural problems it faces and the way that this affects the public it serves.

"All policing leaders need to rethink fundamentally how they lead their organisations to ensure that certain types of behaviour, from the unacceptable to the criminal, are never tolerated.”

Dr Eduardo A. Vasquez, Senior Lecturer in Forensic Psychology at the University of Kent, who provided expert evidence to the Inquiry, suggested that there was a possibility that "prejudiced and biased norms led to ignoring or missing warning signs about the danger that Wayne Couzens posed because they may have been minimised or considered normal for males”.

Responding to Cleverly's statement in the Commons, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said that the government had been "repeatedly" wanred about failures around police vetting and misconduct, with Labour having called for mandatory national vetting standards two years ago – a call that Cooper repeated.

 “Although I agree with most of what the Home Secretary has said, I have to be really blunt about this: his responses are too weak. It is too little, and it is too late, and the lack of urgency is unfathomable to me," she said.

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