A police watchdog inspector today admitted she would have ‘concerns and reservations’ about approaching a lone male police officer at night with a problem, following the sentencing of Sarah Everard’s killer Wayne Couzens.
Zoe Billingham, a senior inspector with Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, also said that she could not say ‘with certainty’ that the murder of a woman by a police officer in Britain would not happen again.
Her comments came as former Scotland Yard chief inspector Parm Sandhu warned how that in her experience, male officers close rank against female colleagues who raise concerns about their behaviour at work.
Ms Sandhu, who now mentors young women becoming officers, also told of her concern over how many women would feel confident in getting into a police officer’s car, and described Couzens as ‘a monster in uniform’.
Couzens’s old boss Dame Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, is facing calls to resign in the wake of the murder amid demands for urgent action to restore the confidence of women in the police.
The Met instantly moved to distanced itself from Couzens yesterday before his sentencing had begun, referring to him as a ‘former Metropolitan Police officer’ in a statement despite him using his job and police belt to kill her.
Couzens was accused of indecent exposure in a branch of fast food restaurant McDonald’s in Swanley, Kent, three days before Miss Everard died, but was not arrested or taken off duty while the matter was investigated.
The 48-year-old had been accused of the same crime in Dover in 2015, while working as an officer for the Civil Nuclear Constabulary. A motorist allegedly saw him driving naked from the waist down, but no arrests were made.
He also allegedly made female colleagues feel uncomfortable and was nicknamed ‘the rapist’. Police watchdog the Independent Office for Police Conduct is investigating whether the allegations were properly dealt with.
Couzens, 48, who was sentenced at the Old Bailey today, strangled 33-year-old Miss Everard with his police belt after kidnapping her in South London under the guise of a fake arrest for breaking lockdown rules.
Zoe Billingham, a senior inspector with Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, said that she could not say ‘with certainty’ that the murder of a woman by a police officer in Britain would not happen again
Scotland Yard chief inspector Parm Sandhu (pictured on Sky News) warned how in her experience, male officers close rank against female colleagues who raise concerns about their behaviour at work.
Ms Billingham told BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour today that Couzens’s actions had struck a ‘hammer blow to the heart of policing legitimacy’ and that she had the same ‘deep, deep anger’ that many people felt over the killing.
She added: ‘I think this is a watershed moment for policing. I think we cannot abide by the narrative that this was a one-off, that he was a bad’un, and I think every force now in the country must look to re-establish trust and legitimacy.
Wayne Couzens, 48, was handed a whole life order today
‘Because what Wayne Couzens did to Sarah Everard has struck a hammer blow to the heart of policing legitimacy in England and Wales.
‘It needs to be treated as thus, and I would call on ever force in the country to now account immediately, not tomorrow, today to account immediately to its communities a to exactly what it is going to do to ensure that this can never happen again.’
Asked by presenter Emma Barnett how safe she would feel going to a male police officer at night with a problem, Ms Billingham said: ‘At this moment in time, like any other woman, I have concerns and reservations, and that’s why I say today we cannot dismiss Wayne Couzens as a one-off as a rarity, as an aberration.
‘We must see every police force in England and Wales now stepping forward to tell its communities precisely what it’s doing to ensure that women are safe. We have yet to see and say with certainty that this may not happen again.’
Ms Billingham’s comments came two weeks after she published a report claiming that police chiefs should treat violence against women as seriously as terrorism and stop ditching an ‘eye-watering’ number of crimes.
Meanwhile Ms Sandhu, who lives in Sevenoaks, Kent, told Sky News: ‘Throughout my service there have been incidents of sexism. I was lucky in that I’ve always managed to stand up for myself at a cost, and there have been hurdles.
‘I still mentor young women who are joining the police service now. And you do have to be strong, you do have to be able to cope with these things and you do have to call it out.
A court artist’s sketch of Lord Justice Fulford sentencing police officer Wayne Couzens at the Old Bailey in London today
‘But unfortunately the majority of people who in the police service are men, so it’s put down to banter and it’s put down to ‘oh, you can’t take a joke’.
‘So you have to be careful about which battles you fight, and I think that’s why this monster got away with some of the comments and some of the actions that he did at this workplace, which is why they called him ‘the rapist’ at work.
Sarah Everard, 33, was raped and murdered in March
‘But no one was strong enough to actually take it any further, or strong enough to actually make him leave the organisation.’
She continued: ‘My biggest concern now is how many women will feel confident in getting into a police officer’s car. The police service must be able to protect and serve our communities. We are supposed to be part of the community… So in my view, something has to be done to rebuild that trust and confidence.
Ms Sandhu also said: ‘This man is a monster in uniform who had got through vetting procedures, so we need to look at how are we vetting people.”
Meanwhile Dame Cressida is facing calls to resign, with Harriet Harman MP asking Home Secretary Priti Patel to take urgent action to ‘rebuild the shattered confidence of women in the police service’.
She has told Dame Cressida that she needs to step aside to ‘enable these changes to be taken through’.
In a letter to Dame Cressida, the MP for Camberwell and Peckham, who is also mother of the House of Commons and chairman of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, said: ‘Women need to be confident that the police are there to make them safe, not to put them at risk. Women need to be able to trust the police, not to fear them.
‘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.
‘I think it is not possible for you to lead these necessary actions in the Metropolitan Police. I am sure that you must recognise this, and I ask you to resign to enable these changes to be taken through and for women to be able to have justified confidence in the police.’
Members of the public wait outside the Old Bailey in London today ahead of the decision over the sentencing of Couzens
Yesterday: Demonstrators hold placards as they await the sentencing of Wayne Couzens outside the Old Bailey in London
In a second letter to Ms Patel discussing the crimes of Wayne Couzens, she said: ‘It is clear that there had been all too many warning signs about him which had been swept under the carpet. It cannot be rebuilt with the attempt to reassure that this was just, as the Metropolitan Police Commissioner said, one ‘bad’un’.
Dame Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, is facing calls to resign in the wake of the murder
‘Women’s confidence in the police can only be rebuilt with substantive and immediate change.’
She called on the Home Secretary to bring forward changes including:
- Immediately suspending officers from duty where there is an allegation of violence against women.
- Dismissing officers immediately when there is a conviction or admission of such a crime.
- Disciplinary action of gross misconduct, leading to dismissal, for failing to report fellow officers for an allegation of violence against women.
- Scrutinising someone’s attitudes to violence against women, including engaging in violence during sex, as part of vetting of police recruits.
- Fresh checks on officers who transfer between forces for allegations of violence against women.
- Training for all current serving officers with a course to teach them to ‘examine their own attitudes to violence against women and recognise signs in their colleagues’.
Anna Birley, co-founder of Reclaim These Streets, said ‘very little’ has changed since Miss Everard’s death and she accused the Government of failing to protect women from violent crime.
The 32-year-old, who is also a Labour and Co-operative councillor for Lambeth Council and has helped organise vigils for Miss Everard and other women murdered in London, said a ‘wholesale change within our criminal justice system’ is needed.
She said: ‘What’s depressing is very little has changed. The Government needs to stop dilly-dallying and take tangible action to stop women from being killed.’