Watchdog warns police after Sarah Everard murder change 'now or never'

Watchdog chief issues stinging rebuke of police culture in wake of Sarah Everard murder as he warns it is ‘now or never for policing to change’ to root out racism and misogyny

  • Independent Office for Police Conduct says forces have to change now
  • Director General Michael Lockwood said it was a ‘watershed moment’ for police
  • He said after crisis in confidence ‘It’s now or never for policing to change’

The director of the Independent Office for Police Conduct said today the murder, kidnap and rape of Sarah Everard by killer cop Wayne Couzens meant it was ‘now or never for policing to change’.

Director General Michael Lockwood said in the past two years alone 394 referrals where abuse of power for sexual gain by police officers was a factor were in the IOPC’s investigations.

He pointed out many others had prompted concerns about staff behaviour on social media, racism, as well as use of stop and search.

And he said the crisis of confidence in the police sparked by Miss Everard’s murder had to be addressed now before it was too late.

He said:  ‘It’s now or never for policing to change. We all want confidence in policing.

‘Policing by consent can only work where there is trust. That trust is fragile. It is easily lost and hard to build with the tragic murder of Sarah Everard further undermining this.

Director General Michael Lockwood said it was a ‘watershed moment’ for police force

Sarah Everard, 33, was kidnapped off the street by a serving Met officer who murdered her

Shockwaves from Wayne Couzens’ crimes have seen calls for Cressida Dick’s resignation

‘The vast majority of police officers do incredibly difficult work and with a clear intent to serve the public. It is important we keep perspective on this.

‘But now is a watershed moment for policing to act and above all else, change. Policing must re-focus on building trust and take a long hard look at its own culture.

‘A police culture that allows racist, misogynistic or homophobic behaviour to exist is not one we can trust. These breaches are compromising the relationship police have with communities they most need to serve.’

The IOPC has looked at over 1,500 police officers and staff since it was formed in 2018 over their conduct.

Out of those it said nearly two thirds – 58 per cent – of those investigations led to disciplinaries or official notices to improve.

From the 394 referrals of abuse of power for sexual gain, the watchdog said 106 were so seriously it launched a full investigation.

Marketing executive Sarah Everard, 33, was snatched off the street in Clapham on March 3

CCTV footage of Miss Everard captured earlier on the night she was kidnapped in March, sparking a nationwide hunt

On day of IOPC director’s comments it dismisses another officer for inappropriate behaviour

A Nottinghamshire Police officer has been dismissed after gross misconduct was found proven, following an investigation by the IOPC.

The police constable faced an allegation of gross misconduct for attempting to form an inappropriate, emotional and/or sexual relationship with a member of the public.

The officer was not named in the hearing, which was chaired by the Nottinghamshire Chief Constable.

The officer had been travelling home from a night shift in February 2020 when he stopped his car near to a roundabout in Nottingham after he said he became concerned with a woman’s driving.

He then identified himself to her as an off-duty police officer and spoke with her. He did not take any action in respect of the potential driving offence and in the following days and weeks, up to May 2020, the officer exchanged messages of a personal and sexual nature with the woman in an attempt to form a relationship.

IOPC investigators analysed mobile phones – including a considerable number of text, WhatsApp and Snapchat messages.

The IOPC interviewed both the officer and the woman involved, who was considered to be vulnerable. 

The firm words from the watchdog come in the wake of widespread repulsion at the appalling crimes of PC Couzens.

He was a serving Met police officer when he used his uniform and police issue handcuffs to kidnap Miss Everard in a car hired because it looked like a force vehicle. 

Using the pretence of lockdown restrictions, Couzens, 48, got the 33-year-old marketing executive to get into his car in Clapham at 9.30pm on March 3.

He drove her 80 miles away to Kent where he raped and killed her before burning her body in a fridge near land he owned.

The horror of an officer – now dismissed and jailed for life – using his position to carry out murder and rape has caused a crisis in confidence in the police.

Met Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick has faced calls to resign and women and girls have spoken out about how they feel unsafe. 

DG Lockwood added: ‘Our work highlights that police officers falling below the standards of behaviour expected are not one-off events, nor can they be dismissed as being an isolated “bad apple”.

‘We remain concerned about a culture where some officers don’t see anything wrong with sharing deeply offensive messages on social media and where others feel unable or unwilling to challenge this and other unacceptable behaviours.

‘Colleagues calling out poor behaviour when they see it should be the norm, and not the exception. Officers need to feel protected to do this out in an environment where there is zero tolerance. You cannot rely on individuals to do this if the culture does not support them.

‘There must be self-awareness of the problem and firm action to tackle it by senior leaders.

‘There must also be consistent and appropriate sanctions being applied by all forces to send a clear message about the standards of behaviour expected from officers.

‘Sadly this is not always our experience.’ 

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