Sarah Everard: Police officer's actions were a 'product of an institution built on misogyny, racism and violence'

·Political Correspondent - Yahoo News UK
·6 min read
Candles, messages and flowers left on the steps of the Parkinson Building at the University of Leeds in West Yorkshire, during a Reclaim These Streets vigil for Sarah Everard. Serving police constable Wayne Couzens, 48, has appeared in court charged with kidnapping and murdering the 33-year-old marketing executive, who went missing while walking home from a friend's flat in south London on March 3. Picture date: Saturday March 13, 2021.
Candles, messages and flowers left at the University of Leeds during a 'Reclaim These Streets' vigil for Sarah Everard on 13 March. (PA Images)

The kidnapping, rape and murder of Sarah Everard by a Metropolitan Police officer has reignited national debates about violence towards women and girls, and the conduct of police officers.

Everard, who was walking home from a friend's house on 3 March when she was abducted by Wayne Couzens, was a marketing executive, described by her family as "kind and thoughtful, caring and dependable" and a person that "always put others first".

Her death has sparked widespread anger - with women's rights organisation Sisters Uncut claiming Everard's murderer was "a product of an institution built on misogyny, racism, violence and coercion". 

On Thursday at the Old Bailey, Couzens, 48, was sentenced to a rare, whole life sentence for his crimes – which judge Lord Justice Fulford described as "devastating, tragic and wholly brutal".

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick gives a statement outside the Central Criminal Court after the sentencing of Sarah Everard's murderer, Wayne Couzens. (Photo by Vuk Valcic / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
Metropolitan Police commissioner Cressida Dick said her force is full of 'capable and caring' officers. (PA Images)

Home secretary Priti Patel said Couzens was a "monster" and that "serious questions" now must be asked about the Met Police.

Dame Cressida Dick, commissioner of the Met Police, has come under intense scrutiny. Patel added that she would "continue to work with the Metropolitan Police and the commissioner to hold them to account".

Since his sentencing, it has emerged that Couzens was reportedly referred to as 'The Rapist' by colleagues. 

He has also been accused of indecent exposure on several occasions, including in the days leading up to Everard's kidnap, rape and murder.

Read more:
'Absolutely terrifying’: Women react to revelation Wayne Couzens ‘falsely arrested’ Sarah Everard 

Woman police officer describes being vilified for reporting misogynistic colleagues 'Warped' killer

Speaking to the press on Thursday, Dick said the Met was full of good people.

"[The Met] is capable and caring, full of people who are good and kind, working all their lives to protect others," she said.

However, she added: “I absolutely know there are those who feel their trust in us is shaken. I recognise for some people, the precious bond of trust has been damaged."

Despite calls for her resignation, Dick said: "Here in the Met, I commit to keep working with others to improve our safety and reduce the fear of violence."

She ended her statement by saying: "I am so sorry."

Dick had come under intense scrutiny in March over the policing of a vigil for Everard on Clapham Common, where officers confronted protesters and were seen leading some away.

The commissioner staunchly defended her officers, criticising what she called "armchair critics" for expressing anger at the way the vigil was policed.

Police officers scuffle with people gathering at a band-stand where a planned vigil in honour of murder victim Sarah Everard was cancelled after police outlawed it due to Covid-19 restrictions, on Clapham Common, south London on March 13, 2021, - The police officer charged with murdering young Londoner, Sarah Everard, who disappeared while walking home from a friend's house, appeared in court on March 13, 2021, as organisers cancelled a vigil in her honour due to coronavirus restrictions. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
The Met Police came under intense scrutiny over how it policed a vigil for Everard on Clapham Common, near where she was kidnapped, in March. (PA Images)

Yahoo News UK spoke to women's rights organisation Sisters Uncut for its reaction to Thursday's verdict.

The group said it hoped Couzens' rare, whole life sentence would provide the Everard family with "some form of peace".

However, it said this would not tackle the broader issue of police powers in the community.

Sister Uncut's Debbie Summers said: "Unfortunately, one more violent police officer behind bars does nothing to keep our communities safe.

"There are plenty officers on the streets who use their powers to coerce, intimidate, and attack.

Read more: Wayne Couzens argued for shorter jail term 'as he tried to minimise Sarah Everard's family's suffering'

"That’s why we attended the vigil, where we were horrified to witness the police using the same law to violently attack women and non-binary people that Couzens used to kidnap Sarah.

"The timeline from her kidnapping to the vigil to now has been nothing but repeated abuse of power, misogyny, and violence."

During the trial, it emerged Couzens most likely used his position as a police officer to coerce Everard into his vehicle, showing her his warrant badge and claiming he was arresting her for breaking COVID lockdown legislation.

And, since Thursday's verdict, there have been more calls for Dick's resignation - including from senior Labour MP Harriet Harman, who said "it is not possible" for Dick to remain commissioner as "women's confidence in the police had been shattered". 

Members of Sisters Uncut take part in a Kill the Bill protest against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill outside the Old Bailey in London. Picture date: Wednesday September 29, 2021.
Members of Sisters Uncut take part in a protest against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill outside the Old Bailey in London, 29 September. (PA Images)

But such a resignation would prove performative, Sisters Uncut said.

"Couzens is not a bad apple," Summers said. "He is a product of an institution built on misogyny, racism, violence and coercion.

"The problem is systemic which is why performative solutions such as asking Cressida Dick to step down will not solve the issue.

"If she steps down, another person with the same ideologies steps into her place."

On Friday, it emerged that a police watchdog is reportedly investigating homophobic, racist and misogynist messages Couzens is alleged to have exchanged with police colleagues. 

(Twitter: @EVAWuk)
(Twitter: @EVAWuk)

The Met Police issued guidance on what women should do if feeling unsafe when stopped by a police officer, advice that includes running away or to "shout or wave a bus down".

And policing minister Kit Malthouse told Sky News that it would be "perfectly reasonable" for the public to call 999 to seek reassurance if they feel threatened by a police officer.

Malthouse added that Couzens had "undermined the good work of thousands and thousands of police officers".

Watch: 'Perfectly reasonable' for anyone approached by a lone officer to call 999

On Thursday, former chief superintendent Parm Sandhu said Britain's police force was "not a safe environment for Black and Asian officers".

Sandhu also said the situation is worse now than when the landmark Macpherson Report was published in 1999, a report that found the Met Police to be institutionally racist following the murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993.

Sisters Uncut condemned suggestions that women should be "more streetwise", and should run away from police or flag down buses if they feel unsafe.

"We are shocked and appalled that the Met Police have encouraged women to 'shout or wave down a bus' if they believe they are being harassed by a male officer," Summers said.

"This advice, alongside the advice to ‘run away and call 999’, should concern everyone as it shows a deep internal distrust. Cressida Dick does not trust her officers to not abuse their powers.

"If the head of the Met can’t trust the police, why should we?"

Watch: Five questions the police still need to answer about Wayne Couzens

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