After being “rocked” by the Everard case, the Met chief promises that the force will learn lessons.
The head of the UK’s largest police force has said she will do everything in her power to ensure that the force has learned from “one of the most dreadful events” in its history after a former officer was sentenced to life in prison for the kidnap, rape and murder of 33-year-old Sarah Everard.
Metropolitan police commissioner Dame Cressida Dick, who faced fresh calls to resign over the force’s failure to recognise the danger posed by Wayne Couzens, 48, said she recognised that “a precious bond of trust” had been damaged and said she was “so sorry”.
The force also admitted for the first time on Thursday evening a possible error during the vetting process when Couzens joined the force.
Couzens, who was still serving at the time of the murder, was given a role as an armed guard at diplomatic premises despite having been suspected, though never convicted of, several indecent exposure offences.
On Thursday, he became the first police officer to be sentenced to a rare “whole-life” tariff, meaning that he will die in prison for what Lord Justice Fulford called his “warped, selfish and brutal offending”.
Dick admitted that the Met had been “rocked” by the case of Everard, whom Couzens abducted on March 3 as she walked home from a friend’s house in Clapham, south London.
Public anger has been heightened by the revelation during the sentencing hearing that Couzens used his police-issued warrant card and handcuffs to seize Everard in a fake arrest for breaches of coronavirus restrictions. He subsequently drove her to Kent, raped her, strangled her and burnt her body.
Everard’s murder has generated unprecedented scrutiny of the sharply declining conviction rates in recent years for rape and sexual assault offences, and to allegations of misogyny within police forces. Criticism of the Met intensified after the heavy-handed policing of a vigil for Everard on March 13 on Clapham Common, near where she was abducted.
Dick said Couzens’ actions were a “gross betrayal” of everything policing stood for and that what he did was “unthinkable and appalling”.
“This man has brought shame on the Met,” she said, speaking outside the Old Bailey after the sentencing. “Speaking frankly, as an organisation we have been rocked.” She “absolutely” knew some people would feel their trust in the force had been shaken, the commissioner added.
“Our dedication to you, our public, remains undiminished,” she said. “As commissioner, I will do everything in my power to ensure we learn any lessons.”
The force has consistently said it had no information to alert it to the danger Couzens posed, despite his having been suspected of indecent exposure as early as 2015. A subsequent report of indecent exposure against him shortly before Everard’s murder was not investigated.
However, in a statement on Thursday evening the force revealed one check in the vetting process when Couzens joined the Met from the Civil Nuclear Constabulary in 2018 might not have been undertaken correctly.
The check related to the 2015 allegation, made in Kent.
“Kent Police investigated this allegation and decided to take no further action,” the Met said. “Our review found that the record of this allegation and outcome may not have been found during the vetting checks.”
The force made the admission in a statement on Thursday evening that expressed greater concern than Dick’s earlier comments about the concerns of London’s women about violence.
It recognised that Everard’s murder was part of a “bigger and more troubling picture”, which included the recent murder of Sabina Nessa, a primary school teacher attacked in Kidbrooke, south-east London, on September 17.
Many campaigners and politicians were critical of Dick’s response.
Emily Hunt, a rape victim who has waived her right to anonymity and campaigns for increased prosecution rates, said that the day of Couzens’ sentencing had offered the force the opportunity to tell Londoners what they would do to win back their trust.
“This needed to have been a moment of reflection for the Metropolitan Police and they have failed,” said Hunt. “In fact, it seems like they haven’t even tried. What are they going to do to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again?”
Priti Patel, home secretary, who oversees the Met jointly with the London mayor, said there were “important questions” about Couzens’ conduct while a police officer and policing more generally following the case.
“I will continue to work with the Metropolitan Police and the commissioner to hold them to account,” said Patel.
However, Harriet Harman, the Labour MP who chairs parliament’s human rights committee, went further, writing to Dick and Patel demanding that the commissioner stand down.
“I have written to the home secretary to set out a number of actions which must be taken to rebuild the shattered confidence of women in the police service,” Harman wrote. “I think it is not possible for you to lead these necessary actions in the Metropolitan Police.”