How on earth were the red flags around Sarah Everard’s murderer missed?

When I first read the horrific account of Sarah Everard’s murder as it was revealed in court this morning, I felt sick, and, several hours later, that queasiness remains.

My heart breaks for her family who have to live with that awful reality every single day. I have nothing but admiration for them that they were able to put together such articulate, raw victim impact statements which show the strength of their love for Sarah and the daily hell they endure at the thought of the torture she went through as her life was taken from her.

It takes incredible self control to be able to stand in a court room, facing your daughter’s or sister’s murderer and not fall to bits.

Lib Dem Women and Equalities spokesperson Wera Hobhouse said:

One question on my mind is how on earth the murderer was able to get himself into the position where he had the authority to trick Sarah. It’s not as if there weren’t enough red flags about him. The Standard reports that a decade ago women at the Civil Nuclear Constabulary where worked felt uncomfortable around him.

Sarah Everard’s killer was nicknamed ‘The Rapist’ and allegedly drove around naked in 2015 three years before he was hired by the Met, it has been reported.

Wayne Couzens’ ex-colleagues at the Civil Nuclear Constabulary (CNC), where he joined in March 2011, reportedly gave him the nickname because he made some female officers feel uncomfortable,

The Independent Office for Police Conduct is investigating three other causes for concern, according to the Guardian:

The IOPC said it was also investigating allegations the Met may not have properly investigated claims against Couzens days before he attacked Everard.

The IOPC said it was carrying out an investigation into alleged Met failures to properly investigate two allegations of indecent exposure linked to Couzens in London in February 2021.

The IOPC is also investigating alleged Kent police failures “to investigate an indecent exposure incident linked to PC Couzens in Kent in 2015” six years before he attacked Everard.

How on earth was a man about whom these concerns had been raised able to get into the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Squad? You would think he would have gone through the highest possible level of vetting for that.

Is there something about the culture of the Met Police and, in fact, other Police forces that doesn’t pick up on very obvious red flags. Back in March, former Nottinghamshire Chief Constable Susanne Fish told BBC Woman’s Hour that there was a toxic culture in the force:

Asked what she meant by institutional misogyny in the way the police handled the vigil, Ms Fish told Woman’s Hour that while there were “many good people” in policing, it was about the “mindset” and “culture” of the institution and how decisions were made.

“I think there is still significant parts of policing where there is a very toxic culture of sexism, of misogyny that objectifies women,” she added.

If that is the opinion of someone who was very senior, what must it be like for those at the other end of the power dynamic?

Women across the country need to see some humility from the Met and a very clear course of action to make sure that any red flags, like those that were there for Sarah Everard’s murderer are acted upon.  Otherwise how can we have confidence in the force that is supposed to be there to protect Londoners and those who visit our capital city?

One of the most annoying things I’ve heard all day was the interview with the officer on Sky News who said that the Met does not view the murderer as a fellow officer.

Former Police officer Wendy Chamberlain had this to say:

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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17 Comments

  • This certainly raises serious concerns and difficult questions, however the fact is not all red flags can be acted on.

    Surely nobody is suggesting that anyone could be barred from certain jobs based on a nickname given to them by colleagues a decade ago?

  • @Marco

    I think if I knew someone was known around their workplace as ‘The Rapist’ I would ask some questions. And if they are in a position with very high vetting levels you would expect that to be an issue. Given that people have been rejected for such roles for a variety of non-criminal acts.

    But seriously their needs to be some action on the Met police which has been a basket case for years (Morgan, Lawrence, Tomlinson, DeMenezes) It’s probably unreformable and time to abolish it completely and build a new police force (or forces) for London.

    Some sort of Shipman style inquiry into policing and police may be needed now – there were a lot of widespread reforms to GP practices in the aftermath of that.

    People who are in positions with the power to get answers should also be asking their police forces – how can people tell when a police officer is legitimately arresting them or whether they are abucting and planning to murder them?

  • There may be other issues, but a police officer exposing himself in a MacDonalds is an immediate follow up offence. Not doing so is a serious operational failure which should have been investigated and remedied pronto. The Met must be held to account on this.

  • Jackie Pearcey 30th Sep '21 - 8:27am

    There seems to be an attitude of mind, particularly in professions which are often under attack to try to protect each other rather than investigate. It happens in the medical profession, with people covering up colleagues who are unable to do their work (and occasionally after doing years of damage discovered not to be qualified in the first place). I fear that Couzens’ colleagues first thoughts might have been “how can we stop this ending Wayne’s career” when the exposure incidents happened rather than taking a good look at him and his behaviour and, well, ending his career.

    Some of the extreme police reaction at the vigil might well have been down to anger that they were demonstrating against a colleague. There’s hideous irony that those officers roughly arresting women for violating lockdown rules were abusing the same covid rules that Couzens used to kidnap Sarah.

    However the very good question remains unanswered: If approached by somebody showing a valid warrant card, claiming to be an undercover police officer and told that they are under arrest, how can people know if this is legit, or a kidnap attempt? We already know that running away might bring about lethal force.

  • Nonconformistradical 30th Sep '21 - 8:50am

    “However the very good question remains unanswered: If approached by somebody showing a valid warrant card, claiming to be an undercover police officer and told that they are under arrest, how can people know if this is legit, or a kidnap attempt?”

    A crucial question. And while the Met has a well-documented track record for failure, how do we know similar situations mightn’t occur in other police forces?

    And how would we know the warrant card is genuine anyway? Or if the ‘officer’ is in uniform that the uniform is real?

  • Jackie’s third sentence is exactly right. Do any of us know the answer to this. All professions and institutions try to protect themselves. As late as 2014 I got grief on this site for pointing put that Cyril Smith was an abuser and the party should proactively reach out to help his victims.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 30th Sep '21 - 1:16pm

    The article here from Caron is added to in its thoughtfulness by good commentary too.

    As a party we do not emphasise violent crime enough. More in recent years has been said and done, I welcome the increase in women in the party who seem to be less oriented to merely rights, and concentrate on responsibilities. Wendy Chamberlain needs a much higher profile, an absolutely fine addition to our front team, with, in my view, if she keeps her rather vulnerable seat, strong potential for greater roles.

    Caron talks sense. These red flags, as she describes them here, are unfathomable. Corruption, almost at protection racket levels, is rife the world over. This country fares better than many. With a father who was Italian, a wife originally from the US, I know how good the police and public officialdom here are.

    My father served in the Bitish run police in Italy in the post war years. He was attracted to this country because of that. things have got better and worse here. Progressive non racist or sexist tendencies are better now. But corruption and in crowd attitudes throughout society perhaps appear worse than before.

    The sentencing of violent criminals is also too lenient. As a party we ought to emphasise that if many do not belong in jail, for minor non violent crimes, many belong there indefinitely for hideous crimes.

    Such an agenda is owed to victims like poor, dear Sarah.

  • @ Hywel

    I have to disagree as denying someone employment based on a past nickname would be very concerning indeed.

    In Couzen’s line of work ie high-level protection I imagine the purpose of the vetting would mainly be to ensure he wasn’t a spy working for the GRU or something like that.

    His defence barrister told the court that his most recent colleagues described him as “polite and friendly” and that his family are bewildered by what he did.

    Everything seems obvious with hindsight. However, in general if you make vetting too strict you will exclude innocent people who do not pose a threat to anyone. Is that the society we want to live in?

  • Peter Martin 30th Sep '21 - 2:00pm

    The worrying thing is that PC Couzens will have been considered a pillar of society and the establishment just a few months ago. Any testimony he would have given in court would have been given added weight due to his status as a policeman. Possibly innocent defendants would have been given long prison sentences as a consequence.

    Many of those who have watched the TV program “Line of Duty” might be under the impression that there is a real life AC-12 which investigates cases of potential police corruption. Unfortunately there isn’t and my experience, is that the establishment will as a first resort look to do what it takes to cover it up if it is reported.

    This didn’t happen in this case because it was ultra high profile and presumably the evidence against PC Couzens was known by too many people, and would have been in danger of leaking out.

    So, a campaign for a real life AC-12 would be in order. If we’d had a real life Ted Hastings and his team working in the Met, the chances are that the criminal activities of PC Couzens would have be discovered long before they extended to murder.

  • I listened to ‘Womans’ Hour’ this morning; a brilliant interview with an Zoë Billingham (ex head of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary)..
    I shook my head in disbelief at some of her revelations of police procedures.. The idea that a policeman/woman who changed police forces faced no background checks before 2019 was astounding; especially as Zoe Billingham pointed out that the reason many switched forces was to ‘jump before they were pushed’..

    Well worth a second listen..

  • Wow @Marco that is some straw man you have erected.

    Neither I nor Caron suggested someone should be sacked *just* for having a nickname. But if someone has the nickname ‘The Rapist’ then the employer should really be finding out why.

    The Met is simply not fit for purpose and beyond reform. Challenging that sort of power in a radical way should be something the Lib Dems are comfortable with but it all feels a bit tepid. To cite three things:

    1) There are several other officers under disciplinary and criminal investigations for messages involving Everard.

    2) See also todays IPT ruling:
    “This is a formidable list of Convention violations, the severity of which is underscored in particular by the violations of Arts 3 and 14. This is not just a case about a renegade police officer who took advantage of his undercover deployment to indulge his sexual proclivities, serious though this aspect of the case unquestionably is.”
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-nottinghamshire-58749590

    3) It is a matter of public record that the inquiry into the murder of Daniel Morgan concluded there was evidence of corruption within the Met and detailed at some length how they thought their inquiry had been obstructed by the failure of the Met to fully co-operate. See chapter 11 https://www.danielmorganpanel.independent.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/CCS0220047602-001_Daniel_Morgan_Inquiry_Web_Accessible.pdf

  • @Jackie and @Ruth

    AFAIK this isn’t clear. Certainly there some authority that running away from a Police officer can constitute obstructing the police. It would also seem though that you have the right to use reasonable force to resist an unlawful arrest.

    If anyone wants to sign this that might be a way to get some traction on this
    https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/598224/sponsors/new?token=6O66Jh1DWfO7_1E7NArJ

  • Nonconformistradical 1st Oct '21 - 10:00am

    Re Hywel’s posting at 30th Sep ’21 – 11:40pm

    From what was being said on the news yesterday there wasn’t much about addressing the culture of mysogeny which appears to exist to greater or less extent within (some) police forces.

    I get that some blokes will have that atttitude already by the time they apply to join a police force. Even if such attitudes were detected reliably during the intiial recruitment processes there might be too many cases to weed them all out…?

    I assume that someone who ends up committing this kind of crime when in a position of authority and trust must have started off as a ‘low-level mysogenist’ for want of a better way of putting it – not that ‘low-level’ would be how the girl/woman on the receiving end would interpret it.

    So while it really needs addressing properly during primary and secondary education (how likely is the son of a mysogenist to become a mysogenist?) it also needs addressing by police forces – and I’m far from sure that is happening.

  • Jackie Pearcey 1st Oct '21 - 10:31am

    There is a terrifying thread on Twitter of women who have been pulled over by lone police officers in remote areas, where the officer was desperately trying to get the woman out of her car and into his car, stating (when the woman refused) that this was going to Court and she’d lose her licence and the women never heard another thing. This doesn’t seem to be a single isolated incident, it seems frighteningly common for young attractive female lone drivers, especially late at night.

    Yesterday a female police officer on the radio mentioned that women police officers were usually reluctant to report a male colleague for assaulting them because they knew that the day would come when they needed backup and the male colleagues of the person they’d reported would fail to turn up and assist, leaving her to get battered. She was so matter of fact about it that she thought it was utterly normal and to be expected.

    It seems to be a lottery as to whether or not a woman’s report of being assaulted is taken seriously. Plus remember that when the Ripper was on his murder spree, women who reported that he had a Yorkshire accent were automatically denounced as unreliable witnesses to their own attacks.

    Meanwhile on films and tv shows the most common way to spice things up seems to be to murder a women, or assault a woman, usually an attractive young woman. The ratios of female to male corpses as the opening scene to detective programs is very skewed towards dead women.

    We do need something similar to the Macpherson Inquiry looking at violence against women.

  • Policing minister Kit Malthouse says it’s ‘reasonable’ to call 999 to identify lone officers and to ‘run away’ if unsure…..

    I’d love to see Kit Malthouse (an unknown face) to try that in real life..

  • Ruth Bright 1st Oct '21 - 11:43am

    Hywel that’s interesting. On January 29 during full lockdown I went on my only (permitted) walk of the day in a local park late evening with (as permitted) a companion from my household. Two torches came rapidly towards us from a distance and we moved away not running but walking away quickly as we were frightened. They ran towards us only shouting ” Stop Police”at the end. We stopped but couldn’t see they were in uniform until they were centimetres away from us. They were a bit sheepish afterwards and said that the only suspicious thing we had done was move away from them.

  • It’s possible he didn’t actually have that nickname. Memories of past events are notoriously unreliable and when people remember the past they are remembering their last recollection of it.

    When a heinous crime like this is committed it results in “something must be done ism”. In the past that would mean the right wing calling for the return of the death penalty (which I am staunchly opposed to and so by extension am uncomfortable with whole life tariffs).

    Now progressives have a list of demands of what should be or should have been done. What if there is no straightforward solution to stop murderous individuals?

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