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In Sarah Everard’s memory… Keep our streets safe

Sarah Everard: Cressida Dick reacts to Couzens’ life sentence

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Met Police chief Dame Cressida Dick ignored calls to quit over the abduction, rape and murder of Sarah, above, by serving PC Wayne Couzens. But the UK’s most senior officer admitted public trust “is us is shaken”. She instead she would “keep working… to improve women’s safety”.

The Old Bailey sentencing judge yesterday called Couzens’ crimes “warped, selfish and brutal”. He is the first policeman to be sentenced to a whole life term.

As Sarah’s grieving family told of their relief that the marketing executive’s murderer would now die behind bars, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida admitted trust “in us is shaken”.

Then serving officer Couzens, 48 — previously known to some colleagues as “the rapist” — kidnapped the 33-year-old in a bogus arrest at night and used his police belt to throttle her, later burning her body.

Dame Cressida said: “Sarah’s kidnap, rape and murder was one of the most dreadful events in the 190-year history of the Metropolitan Police Service.

“There are no words that can fully express the fury and overwhelming sadness we all feel about what happened to Sarah.

“I am so sorry. I know that what happened to Sarah, and indeed what has happened to other women in London and beyond in recent times, has raised important questions about women’s safety.

“I commit to keep working with others to improve women’s safety and reduce the fear of violence. This man has brought shame on the Met.”

Dame Cressida added: “Speaking frankly, as an organisation we have been rocked.”

Couzens had planned meticulously and “hunted for a lone young female”, the Old Bailey heard, before he pounced on Sarah in Clapham, South London.

Now there is a grieving family and with that there are many women and girls who simply feel unsafe

Priti Patel

He produced his police warrant card then used his service-issue handcuffs to abduct her, driving to Dover where he raped and strangled her, before leaving her body in a dumped fridge.

The armed diplomatic protection officer later burned the marketing manager’s body in Kent woodland – the “final insult”, the court heard, as Sarah’s family were denied the chance of a proper farewell.

Dame Cressida added: “I am absolutely horrified that this man used his position of trust to deceive and coerce Sarah. His actions were a gross betrayal of everything policing stands for.

“What he did was unthinkable and appalling. He showed himself to be the coward he is through his lies. Police officers are here to protect people, to be trustworthy, courageous and compassionate. His every action is the exact opposite.”

But Zoe Billingham, standing down after 12 years in her role at Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, said it was “a watershed moment for policing”, adding that Couzens’ crimes had “struck a hammer blow to policing legitimacy.

“We cannot abide by the narrative that this was a one-off and I think every force now in the country must look to re-establish trust.

“I’d call on every force to now account immediately — not tomorrow, today — to its communities as to exactly what it’s going to do.”

Asked by BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour presenter Emma Barnett how safe she would feel going to a male police officer at night, Ms Billingham said: “Like any other woman, I have concerns and reservations, and that’s why I say… we cannot dismiss Wayne Couzens as a one-off, as a rarity, as an aberration.”

One ex-senior officer said women in the police are afraid to report male colleagues for misconduct due to fears they will be abandoned if they need help. Parm Sandhu, a former Met chief superintendent, said she had been “vilified” when she raised concerns about the way she was treated.

She told BBC Radio 4’s The World At One: “The police service is very sexist and misogynistic. A lot of women will not report their colleagues.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel yesterday called for an overhaul of policing as forces “must fundamentally change their approach to these issues around crimes and violence against women and girls.”

Ms Patel added: “I say this not just as Home Secretary but as a woman. All of us want to feel safe and be safe. That is absolutely a right we have.”

The Home Secretary said Britain’s biggest police force has “serious questions” to answer.

When asked if Dame Cressida should resign, she said: “I will continue to work with the Metropolitan Police and the commissioner to hold them to account as everybody would expect me to do.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “No woman should have to fear harassment or violence. We will do everything possible to prevent these abhorrent crimes and keep our communities safe.”

In another blow to the Metropolitan Police after a series of scandals, the Chief Inspector of Constabulary Sir Tom Winsor revealed Couzens was known as “the rapist” by other officers at times during his career.

Sir Tom said the Independent Office for Police Conduct was investigating what other officers knew about Couzens following his conviction for the murder of Sarah.

He said he did not believe Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick should have to resign over the case.

“Cressida Dick is not responsible for the individual acts of every police officer, including a police officer of the appalling criminal intent of Wayne Couzens,” he said. “Cressida Dick has a great deal of support from her officers and has led the force with distinction.”

Describing Couzens as a “monster” and the case as “sickening” and an “appalling tragedy”, Ms Patel said: “It is right that he has been given a whole-life tariff and with that he can never walk the streets of our country again.”

She added: “We all have to be very clear that right now there is a grieving family and with that there are many women and girls who simply feel unsafe as to what has happened and will listen to what the judge has said today around the abuse of trust and the abuse of power by a serving officer in the Metropolitan Police.

“It is my duty and my responsibility to hold the police to account, to continue to ask questions that I have been asking over recent months, but also I think importantly to ensure that the change that we need to see within the police actually takes place.”

In a letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel, Labour MP Hariett Harman, a former Shadow Home Secretary, wrote that the “confidence of women in the police will have been shattered” by Couzens’ actions and called for Dame Cressida to resign.

Yvette Cooper, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, called for a Macpherson-style independent inquiry into violence against women and girls.

Martin Hewitt, chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said: “With the Met Police and across policing, we must rebuild that trust and do all we can to make our streets safe for women and girls.”

Comment by Baroness Newlove

People say “time’s a healer” or you’ll “get over it”, but you never get over it.

One small word brings you right back to day one.

It is so important that the victim’s family can make sure that the voice of their loved one is heard and comes alive. It is horrendous listening to them being spoken about as a piece of evidence.

The families have to sit in court silently. That gut-wrenching feeling of knowing you cannot say a word has never left me.

The prosecutor does not represent the victim’s family, they represent the Crown. Victims have no legal rights.

Having gone through a 10-week trial, to see all the legal professionals surround the defendants is in itself damning.

After the sentencing, it’s the loneliest place and you feel physically sick once again. In court, the name of your loved one carries on. You still feel their presence is there with you.

But at home when you shut that front door you think: “Where do we go from here?” It’s very traumatic and that now is my concern. I do hope Sarah’s family get the right support they need because one size does not fit all. They will just want to have Sarah back, as I did with Garry.

You need time to try to repair, to have the strength to get out of bed.

Myself and my three girls all have post-traumatic stress disorder – and the murder was 14 years ago.

And there could be an appeal. I’m still having to go through parole hearings. For all these years, I’ve not had a year off. The system seems to get further from victims’ families as it is geared towards the human rights of the offenders and their release.

We have a family coping mechanism and my girls may be stronger, but they are not the individuals that Garry and I wanted them to be.

● Baroness Newlove is a former Victims’ Commissioner whose husband was murdered by three youths in 2007

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