Despite branding Sarah Everard’s murder by Wayne Couzens the worst moment in the Metropolitan Police’s 192-year history, Tory Kit Malthouse refused calls for the force’s Commissioner to go
The Tory Police Minister has refused calls to sack Cressida Dick – despite admitting she has presided over “the worst moment in the 192-year history of the Metropolitan Police”.
Kit Malthouse claimed the Scotland Yard Commissioner was a “dedicated and talented and committed police officer” who is driving “ever-greater standards of care and improvement”.
It comes despite missed opportunities to sack a serving police officer who kidnapped, raped and murdered Sarah Everard in March, after abusing Covid powers to falsely arrest her.
Wayne Couzens, 48, was handed a whole life sentence at the Old Bailey yesterday by Lord Justice Fulford, who said his “warped, selfish and brutal” offences had eroded confidence in the police.
A senior officer admitted a vetting check on the former police officer was not done “correctly” when he joined the Met in 2018, and he was linked to an indecent exposure incident at a McDonald’s in Swanley, Kent, 72 hours before Ms Everard was abducted.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct is also investigating the conduct of five officers over allegations they sent discriminatory messages over WhatsApp.
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The Times reported the officers are alleged to have shared misogynistic, racist and homophobic material with Couzens months before he killed Ms Everard.
Today Mr Malthouse admitted trust in police has been “shaken” by the incident, as Scotland Yard issued new guidance for those who think officers are a threat.
But he denied Dame Cressida – who had her contract extended by Home Secretary Priti Patel – should quit or be sacked.
He told Sky News: “This is probably the worst moment in the 192-year history of the Metropolitan Police.
“But when these awful things happen, I want a police leader who’s transparent, willing to learn, willing to change and has a conviction, a commitment not to be defensive about the failings of the organisation.
“And I think that’s what we’re seeing in Cressida Dick.”
Asked why she should keep her job, he said he had worked with her over many years and “she is a dedicated and talented and committed police officer who is driving the Metropolitan Police to ever greater standards of care and improvement and fighting crime.”
Senior Labour MP Harriet Harman QC, a former justice minister, demanded that Dame Cressida quit.
In a letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel, she wrote: “Women must be able to have confidence in the police. They must be able to trust them, not fear them.
“A serving police officer abducted Sarah Everard using his powers of arrest in order to then rape and kill her. The confidence of women in the police will have been shattered.
“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’.”
Ms Harman called for a series of changes to help restore confidence in the police and avoid a similar tragedy from happening again.
She added: “I think it is impossible for the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick to oversee this programme and I have therefore called on her to resign.”
The Met announced it will no longer deploy plain clothes officers on their own after the sentencing yesterday.
The force has also promised to publish a new strategy for tackling violence against women and girls, outlining how it will prioritise action against sexual and violent predatory offenders.
The Met have also promised to “step up” patrols and provide an increased police presence in areas identified as “hotspot” locations for violence and harassment.
As Couzens kidnapped Ms Everard by carrying out a false arrest with his warrant card, the Met have also issued advice to anyone who is concerned a police officer is not acting legitimately during an interaction.
They recommend people ask where the officer’s colleagues are, where they have come from, why they are there, and exactly why they are stopping or talking to them.
They also suggest verifying the police officer by asking to hear their radio operator or asking to speak to the radio operator themselves.
“All officers will, of course, know about this case and will be expecting in an interaction like that – rare as it may be – that members of the public may be understandably concerned and more distrusting than they previously would have been, and should and will expect to be asked more questions,” the force said in a statement.
Finally, the Met Police are advising people to shout out to a passer-by, run into a house, knock on a door, wave a bus down, or call 999.
The advice prompted fury, with Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner tweeting: “What is going on at the top of the Metropolitan Police? Give me strength.”
Shadow domestic violence minister Jess Phillips added: “This trust is not going to be built back overnight with a 10 point list of what to do if a police officer approaches you.”
Tory MP Caroline Nokes told Sky News Dame Cressida “had 6 months since Sarah Everard’s murder to come out with a plan to help restore trust in the Service she leads”. She added: “Telling women to run if someone purporting to be a Police Officer tries to arrest them is not a solution”.
At a briefing at Scotland Yard following the sentencing, Assistant Met Commissioner Nick Ephgrave told reporters Couzens was not named in the Swanley incident but his car was reported to officers, who were said to have not yet completed the investigation.
He also said a vetting check was not carried out “correctly” on Couzens when he joined the force in 2018, linking him to another indecent exposure allegation in Kent in 2015.
The vetting did not flag up that a vehicle associated with Couzens had been identified in the Kent Police investigation.
But Mr Ephgrave said that even if it had come up in the vetting process, it would not have changed the outcome because the investigation resulted in no further action and Couzens was never named as a suspect.
He added: “We ask anyone in the service or any member of the public that might have any information about Couzens’ behaviour – either as an officer or member of the public – that might be relevant, please come forward.”
Mr Ephgrave said the Met had been referred to the police watchdog over the Swanley incident and a file sent to the Crown Prosecution Service in relation to the alleged crime itself.