Sarah Everard's murder must be a watershed moment to tackle serious systemic failings at the heart of the police
At the time of my election in 2019, I viewed being a former police officer as a way of demonstrating that I was someone to be trusted. That trust has been seriously eroded and damaged by Sarah Everard's terrible murder.
This week we heard how a police officer used his warrant card and handcuffs to kidnap, rape and murder a young woman. A police officer who we now know may have committed other previous offences and was nicknamed "The Rapist" by his colleagues given his inappropriate comments about women. How could this happen?
Environment Secretary George Eustice rather dismissively claimed said actions were those of “one bad apple” during his appearance on Question Time last week. Neglecting the fact that the proverb ends “spoils the whole barrel”, it’s this same attitude and comfort blanket that senior figures in the Met have retreated into.
The Daniel Morgan report, published earlier this year, exposed a culture of institutionalised corruption within the Metropolitan Police, but also laid bare a concerning tendency to cover their own backs. Senior leadership putting their reputations ahead of openness, honesty and justice for victims.
Attempts to distance themselves from Wayne Couzens is another example. One of the senior investigators on Sarah’s case asserted that the police “do not view” Couzens as a fellow officer, and therein lies the problem.
Sarah viewed Wayne Couzens as a police officer, because he was a serving officer at the time he took her life. The Met do not have the right to decide otherwise.
There is a huge conflict between the urgent need for more officers and the current vetting processes
As a former police officer myself, I still carry the responsibility of my service with me long after I stopped wearing the uniform. Having served as a police officer does shape people’s opinions of you. At the time of my election in 2019, I viewed it as a way of demonstrating that I was someone to be trusted.
Couzens used and abused not only his position of power, but the notion of trust that Sarah placed in him as someone who wears the uniform with a duty to safeguard and protect.
That trust has been seriously eroded and damaged by this terrible crime. It is a shattering of trust that goes beyond the Metropolitan Police and applies to police services as a whole across the country.
So the question that has to be asked is - how can this be fixed?
Cressida Dick has overseen this failure from right at the top, and it is therefore appropriate that she shoulder responsibility and resign. That would be real leadership. But that alone won’t even begin to tackle some of the serious systemic issues at the heart of this and other failings.
There is a huge conflict between the urgent need for more officers and the current vetting processes during recruitment and throughout service. The government’s drive for 20,000 more police is all well and good, but they have to be the right people who are reflective of the communities they represent. Diligence must not be sacrificed in the pursuit of statistics.
There is also a distinct lack of a broader strategy when it comes to tackling violence perpetrated by men against women and girls, which is a pandemic in itself. Since Sarah’s tragic death, 80 women have allegedly been killed at the hands of men. At what point do we put our foot down and say enough is enough?
That point is way overdue. Too many women feel unsafe walking alone down their own streets. Stories like those of schoolteacher Sabina Nessa. A bright, young woman with her whole life ahead of her. Like many, failed by our criminal justice system and failed by this government, who have sat on their hands and not done nearly enough to prevent this appalling violence.
That is why my Liberal Democrat colleagues and I have today called for a Royal Commission into male violence against women and girls. There hasn’t been a Commission this century, and given the Conservatives pledged one on crime in their 2019 manifesto, this would be a way for the government to demonstrate that this is a watershed moment.
For the sake of over 600,000 women sexually assaulted each year. For the sake of over 50,000 women raped last year. And for the sake of young girls who have the right to grow up not in fear, but in hope. The government owes it to them.
Wendy Chamberlain is the Liberal Democrat MP for North East Fife.
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