Patel orders probe into police after Sarah Everard murder

Priti Patel, U.K. home secretary, on day two of the annual Conservative Party conference in Manchester, U.K., on Oct. 4, 2021. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Hollie Adams.

U.K. Home Secretary Priti Patel ordered an independent investigation into the conduct of police after the rape and murder of a young woman by a serving officer the day after the police ordered their own inquiry.

The kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard, who was taken in March while walking home along well-lit roads in south London, sparked scrutiny of police culture and outrage at the prevalence of violence against women in Britain.

The trial of the officer Wayne Couzens and how the police handled a vigil for Everard has tested the already brittle relationship between government and the Metropolitan Police. The institution is suffering from a crisis of public trust.

“Recent tragic events have exposed unimaginable failures in policing,” Patel told the Conservative Party’s annual conference in Manchester on Tuesday. “It is abhorrent that a serving police officer was able to abuse his position of power, authority and trust to commit such a horrific crime.”

Questions have been asked over how Couzens retained his position despite previous incidents of indecent exposure and, in turn, how police forces monitor the behavior of their officers. The nation’s most senior police officer, Cressida Dick, has come under pressure to resign over a series of failures that allowed Couzens to stay working as a firearms officer.

“We need answers as to why this was allowed to happen” Patel said, announcing the government inquiry, “to ensure something like this can never happen again.”

The inquiry will split be split into two parts, according to a Home Office statement. The first will focus on Couzens’ conduct in the lead up to the murder; and the second will study wider issues across policing.

Patel’s inquiry comes on top of an investigation ordered Monday by Dick to conduct an independent review of the Met’s culture and standards. It shows a lack of confidence that the capital’s police can get its own house in order.

A group of Couzens’ former Met colleagues are under investigation over a Whatsapp messaging group that included the now convicted murderer. Meanwhile an officer in the same unit as Couzens has separately been accused of raping a woman when he was off-duty.

A former head of the Met, John Stevens, said that Dick should be held responsible for the vetting “blunders” but also pointed to a succession of Home Secretaries that have slashed funding for policing.

One police official in the north of England suggested women should be more “streetwise” in protecting themselves and the Met itself said if someone is stopped by a lone police officer they should “try waving a bus down.” Those suggestions were lambasted by senior politicians including Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

 

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