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Couzen’s sentencing prompts calls for change within the police

Though justice has been served with Sarah Everard’s killer condemned to spend the rest of his life behind bars, the case has sparked a renewed focus on law enforcement misconduct in the UK.

Following trial, Wayne Couzens has been sentenced to a whole life order for the kidnap, rape, and murder of Sarah Everard, meaning he will never be eligible for parole.

The ruling – which comes six months after her case first made international headlines and unearthed far broader concerns regarding the violence women face on a daily basis – is considered the only appropriate punishment for a perpetrator of such cruel nature.

It is the most severe penalty the UK legal system can dish out, and is considered its best attempt at truly serving justice for an extreme case.

Yet one particularly harrowing detail of what happened to Sarah back in March has some feeling otherwise: that Couzens, a serving Metropolitan police officer, abused his position of trust and authority to arrest her under false pretences.

For them, this finding (disclosed to the public on September 29) has overshadowed any sense of catharsis or relief that the British criminal justice system has triumphed over evil.

Instead, the pivotal role Couzen’s profession played in his kidnap of Sarah has sparked a renewed focus on law enforcement misconduct in the UK.

 

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‘Women’s confidence in the police dropped dramatically following Couzens’ arrest and this was underpinned by the heavy-handed and inappropriate treatment of women attending the vigil to remember her life,’ said chief executive of Women’s Aid, Farah Nazeer, in a statement.

‘The police need to urgently address the culture of sexism that exists, prioritise violence against women and girls to the same level as terrorism and utilise their funding to ensure that they tackle the issues of male violence towards women. They should also now embark on an urgent programme of restorative work to regain the confidence of women.’

However, in light of a Byline Intelligence Team investigation which uncovered that 52% of police officers found guilty of sexual misconduct between 2016 and 2020 kept their jobs, this might not be an easy feat.

Especially considering this statistic is in addition to the 800 domestic abuse and inappropriate behaviour allegations made against Metropolitan staff since 2017 and the fifteen women that have been killed by police officers in the past twelve years.

As a service working to represent the interest of victims, this understandably makes it near-impossible to have faith in the police if they seem unable to deal with misconduct in their own ranks correctly.

A prime example of this being the multiple claims of indecent exposure relating to Couzens that the Met failed to confront years ago, as well as the fact he was nicknamed ‘The Rapist’ by former colleagues which they also appeared to turn a blind eye to.

 

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Even Priti Patel, notoriously decried for her ‘draconian’ Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that looks to give law enforcement more power, is aware of these statistics. She has publicly emphasised her duty to hold the police to account and continue pushing for ‘answers to serious questions.’

Namely why the damaging culture of colleague protection that sees forces insufficiently managing fears about constables who demonstrate worrying characteristics still persists.

It’s this very matter that has MP Harriet Harman demanding Commissioner Cressida Dick’s resignation and feminist grassroots groups like Sister’s Uncut calling for more insight into how the Met is preventing men like Couzens from entering their ranks because, as they say, there will always be more than just one ‘bad apple’ in the barrel.

‘The details coming from today’s sentencing show us that you cannot separate Couzens from his role as police officer,’ an activist told Dazed outside the Old Bailey yesterday.

Arguing that police will never rid themselves of violent men or prioritise the safety of women, people of colour and other marginalised groups, she believes they should be abolished entirely as a result.

‘It is the powers given to him as a police officer that allowed him to kidnap, rape, and murder Everard. It is the legitimisation and protection given to the Bully Boys in Blue that mean that no police officer has ever been convicted of murder.’

 

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