Priti Patel announces inquiry into murder of Sarah Everard
Priti Patel has announced an inquiry into “systemic failures” in the Metropolitan police that allowed a serving police officer to abuse his position to kidnap, rape and murder Sarah Everard.
The inquiry will investigate why Wayne Couzens had not been identified by the force as a sexually aggressive predator. He was known among former colleagues as The Rapist and he had exposed himself on two occasions.
Addressing the Conservative party conference, she said the killing “exposed unimaginable failures in policing”. She is yet to announce who will lead the non-statutory inquiry.
“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. The public have a right to know what systematic failures, enabled his continued employment as a police officer. We need answers as to why this was allowed to happen,” she said.
“I can confirm today that there will be an inquiry to give the independent oversight needed to ensure that something like this can never happen again.”
The decision represents a change of direction for the government and will increase pressure on Dame Cressida Dick, the Met police commissioner.
Boris Johnson said on BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday there was no need for an inquiry. He suggested the ongoing investigation by the Met into other wrongdoing by Couzens, and by the police watchdog into his connections to other officers, should first be allowed to proceed.
The culture of the Met has been under scrutiny since it emerged that Couzens was known by colleagues to have a history of sexual aggression towards women. He was known as The Rapist while working at the Civil Nuclear constabulary in Kent by colleagues, who also knew he liked rape pornography.
Questions have been raised about the Met’s vetting processes after it emerged Couzens was allowed to continue serving despite having been investigated by Kent police in 2015 for indecent exposure.
He used his warrant card and police-issued handcuffs to get Everard, 33, into a car before raping and strangling her and burning her body in woodland in Kent.
The first part of the inquiry would examine Couzens’ previous behaviour and establish a definitive account of his conduct leading up to his conviction, as well as any opportunities missed, drawing on the ongoing Independent Office for Police Conduct investigations, a Home Office statement said.
The second part will look at specific issues raised by the first part, which could include vetting practices, professional standards and discipline, and workplace behaviour.
Last week, it was revealed that five serving officers, including three from the Met, were under investigation for sharing racist and misogynistic messages with Couzens on a WhatsApp group.
A freedom of information request showed that more than half of Met officers found guilty of sexual misconduct over a four-year period to 2020 kept their jobs, a total of 43 officers out of 83.
Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, wrote to Patel on Friday with a request to work together to hold Dick and her force to account and to restore public trust, his office said. They spoke again on Sunday evening after it emerged that another Metropolitan police officer, PC David Carrick, had been charged with rape.
Khan said the inquiry must address cultural issues within the force.
“All police officers must adhere to the highest possible standards, we must stamp out misogyny, sexism, racism and homophobia, root out those who abuse their trusted position as officers, and ensure that tackling violence against women and girls is treated with the highest priority,” he said.
Patel also plans to write to the independent police inspectorate to commission a thematic inspection including of police forces’ ability to detect and deal with misogynistic and predatory behaviour. She has asked for initial findings by the end of 2021.
Dick, who was given a two-year extension to her contract last month, has rejected calls to resign over Everard’s murder. On Monday she ordered a review of the Met’s culture.
On Sunday, the group Conservative Young Women spoke out in the wake of Everard’s murder and after Met police officers were charged over photographs taken at the scene of the murders of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, which were then allegedly shared in a WhatsApp group.
“Many of us feel unsafe and all of us are sad and angry that the epidemic of violence against women and girls has been left unaddressed for so long,” the group said, adding: “Every one of us has thought to ourselves: ‘That could have been me.’”