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Wayne Couzens report: Police ignored 'red flags' about Sarah Everard killer's predatory sexual offending

Wayne Couzens was able to murder Sarah Everard because the Met and other forces ignored a succession of “red flags” about his predatory sexual offending that should have stopped him being in the police, a damning report concluded on Thursday.

In the 343-page analysis of the tragedy, Lady Elish Angiolini says the missed opportunities to halt Couzens included the failure to pursue eight incidents of indecent exposure that were reported to police before he killed Ms Everard.

It also blames vetting failures by the Met and a police culture involving “vile behaviour and deeply abusive language” treated as “banter” for the failure to detect his predatory nature - and highlights Couzens’ interest in violent and extreme pornography as further evidence of his deviant sexual activity.

Thursday’s report also reveals a series of further alleged crimes by Couzens including a knifepoint kidnapping in north London in 2015, two rapes in the capital, and an “alleged sexual assault against a child “barely in her teens” before he joined Kent Police as a volunteer officer in 2006.

It warns, however, that despite the catalogue of failings, there is still nothing to stop another violent predator like Couzens from being in the police and calls for extensive reforms to prevent this from happening.

The recommendations include treating indecent exposure incidents with the “seriousness” it merits, including a public information campaign to encourage victims to come forward, and far stricter vetting of officers.

Unveiling her findings on Thursday, Lady Elish said Sarah’s life had been “cut short with the most unimaginable cruelty” and that “failures in investigations into allegations of indecent exposure meant opportunities to disrupt Couzens’ offending and bring his policing career to a halt were missed.”

She added: “Wayne Couzens should never have been a police officer. And without a significant overhaul, there is nothing to stop another Couzens operating in plain sight.”

Wayne Couzens was a serving police officer when he murdered Sarah Everard (Supplied)
Wayne Couzens was a serving police officer when he murdered Sarah Everard (Supplied)

She said that Couzens was a “predatory sex offender and murderer” who had been able “to target vulnerable women while operating in plain sight as an apparently unremarkable officer” but that ”evidence of his alleged sexual offending, his preference for extreme and violent pornography and his unmanaged debts date back nearly 20 years prior to Sarah’s murder.”

Lady Elish added: “Failures of investigation, failures of recruitment processes, and failures of vetting policy and practice are a depressingly familiar refrain in policing, Now is the time for change and I have made 16 recommendations to bring about the necessary changes.

“I would urge all those in authority in every police force in the country to read this report and take immediate action. Sarah’s parents and loved ones live in the perpetual grief and pain of having lost Sarah in this way. Her death, and the public discourse it caused, should galvanise those responsible for policing to make sure something like this can never happen again.”

Couzens joined Kent Police in 2006 before joining the Civil Nuclear Constabulary in 2011 and then the Met in 2018.

The report says that eight incidents of indecent exposure involving were reported to police before Ms Everard’s murder on 3 March 2021 after being kidnapped by Couzens in Clapham under the guise of making an arrest.

One was in 2015 when Couzens, who was already working as a firearms officer with the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, was identied as the owner of a car whose driver had been reported for exposing himself to a member of the public.

Couzens was the only male registered to drive the vehicle but Kent Police closed the case, which today’s report says was a “red flag” and a “missed opportunity” to stop Couzens, without speaking to him.

Another alleged indecent exposure, targeting a lone cyclist on a country lane, was reported to Kent Police in 2020, while four further incidents were reported to the Met, whose investigation “fell below the standards any victim of crime should expect”, only days before Sarah’s murder.

The report says the Met’s failures include his “flawed” initial vetting on joining the force in 2018 when a check of the Police National Database was wrongly recorded as “no trace” when in reality there were entries linking his car to the Kent indecent exposure in 2015 and a reference to him being reported missing from home in 2013.

Wayne Couzens was spotted at a BP petrol station in Whitfield, Kent, on March 5, 2021, two days after her murder (PA)
Wayne Couzens was spotted at a BP petrol station in Whitfield, Kent, on March 5, 2021, two days after her murder (PA)

It says that Scotland Yard also wrongly failed to check the Police National Database again in 2019 when Couzens applied to become a firearms officer when the Kent incident should have again have been revealed.

Lady Elish said that despite these failings, which could have alerted the Met to the potential danger posed by Couzens, the force had made an “astonishing” statement to her inquiry in 2022 that it would still have recruited him even if it had known the information about his history.

Thursday’s report does not state whether this comment was made by the Met before or after the current Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley, who took over in September 2022, was in charge at Scotland Yard.

Lady Elish also discloses that there were also at least five other alleged incidents of sexual offending by Couzens that were never reported to police and that there “may be even more victims of Couzens’ offending” who have not come forward.

Listing alleged crimes which have been reported since Couzens’ arrest for Sarah’s murder, the report says they include an alleged knife point kidnapping in north London in 1995 and two rapes.

The first, between November 2006 and January 2007, was at a singles event at a bar in east London, while the second allegedly occurred below an unnamed bridge in the capital in October 2019.

The report says that on a “number of occasions” Couzens had also tried to show friends violent and extreme porn with incidents dating back to before he joined the police.

Thursday’s Standard front page (Evening Standard)
Thursday’s Standard front page (Evening Standard)

It reveals that he sent unsolicited photos of his penis to two women and “paid female online retailers to masturbate into clothes and send them to him”.

It also highlights debt problems that it says affected Couzens and should have been taken into consideration by police when assessing his suitability to serve.

Responding to Thursday’s findings, Sarah’s family backed Lady Elish’s call for action to prevent further tragedies and said that their “desperate longing to have her with us remains and the loss of Sarah pervades every part of our lives”.

“It is obvious that Wayne Couzens should never have been a police officer,” they said. “Warning signs were overlooked throughout his career and opportunities to confront him were missed. We cannot get Sarah back, but positive changes give hope for the future and will be of benefit to others.”

Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley, who has already vowed to do more to root out unsuitable officers, said the report was an "urgent call for action".

But he warned that it would take time to transform his force and, in a seemingly telling remark, said only that "the majority" of his colleagues; rather than all, shared his determination to tackle "predatory men in policing" and improve the protection of women and children.

"There is nothing we can say to the family of Sarah Everard and all those who loved her that will convey how very sorry we are," Sir Mark said in a statement.

“Wayne Couzens’ crimes were horrific. The fact that he abused his position as a Metropolitan Police officer to carry them out represents the most appalling betrayal of trust. It damages the relationship between the public and the police and exposes long-standing fundamental flaws in the way we decide who is fit to be a police officer and the way we pursue those who corrupt our integrity once they get in.

"We must go further and faster, to earn back the trust of all those whose confidence in policing has been shaken by events of recent years.

"The scale of the change that is needed inevitably means it will take time and it is not yet complete. The majority of my Met colleagues share my determination to reform by both confronting the risk posed by predatory men in policing, and also, improving our protection of women and children across London.”

Home Secretary James Cleverly claimed that a "root and stem" overhaul of policing had already made "huge strides" but promised further action.

"The act of pure evil committed against Sarah shocked the nation to its core. My heart goes out to Sarah’s family and to all the brave victims who came forward to help inform this report and drive change," he said.

“The man who committed these crimes is not a reflection on the majority of dedicated police officers working day in, day out to help people. But Sarah was failed in more ways than one by the people who were meant to keep her safe, and it laid bare wider issues in policing and society that need to be urgently fixed."

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said the report had confirmed that "red flags" should have to Couzens being "kicked out" of the police.

He added: “I think it’s far too easy to become a police officer. It’s far too difficult to get rid of a police officer.

“This isn’t the only man who is a predator who has done horrible things who is a police officer.”

In a press conference after the report, senior police officers warned that indecent exposure is not treated seriously enough within policing or the criminal justice system.

A series of flashing allegations were made against Couzens before the murder.

Chief Constable Andy Marsh, chief executive of the College of Policing, said: "Three years ago, certainly indecent exposure wasn't treated as seriously as it should be, and I'm not giving you a guarantee here today that we are where we want to be yet.

"But the criminal justice system... treats indecent exposure as a six-month maximum summary offence or a two-year on indictment offence.

"I don't think the criminal justice system takes it seriously enough."

Asked whether senior officers are confident there are no more predators like Couzens within the ranks, Mr Marsh said: "It's very difficult to give a cast-iron, copper-bottomed guarantee like that, but what we are expressing is a determination to minimise that threat."