DO the Metropolitan Police top brass think there are lessons to be learned from Sarah Everard’s murder? They don’t seem to.
As the two-day sentencing hearing at the Old Bailey began this week, the Met put out a statement saying “former Metropolitan Police Officer PC Wayne Couzens will be sentenced”.
It went on to say “we are sickened, angered and devastated by this man’s crimes, which betray everything we stand for”.
But there was something wrong — very wrong — with that opening line. Wayne Couzens wasn’t a former police officer when he killed Sarah.
In fact, as we now know, he used his policing para-phernalia to dupe her into believing she was being arrested under Covid laws — and then to trap her in his car as he kidnapped her.
This didn’t stop one of the Met investigators on the case, former DCI Simon Harding, telling Sky News: “Police officers do not view Wayne Couzens as a police officer. They view him as a murderer who happened to be a police officer.”
That distinction must feel nice for them. But there was nothing “former” about Couzens.
He still saw himself very much as a police officer after committing his sick crimes.
He even complained about his pay in an email the next day. He was only sacked from the force in July when he finally admitted to Sarah’s murder, having already pleaded guilty to her kidnap and rape at an earlier hearing.
The judge didn’t think of him as a “former” officer, either. When he sentenced him yesterday, Lord Justice Fulford told the Old Bailey that Couzens had “eroded the confidence that the public are entitled to have in the police forces of England and Wales”.
The whole-life sentence he imposed was partly based on “the misuse of the defendant’s role as a police officer”.
Why were coppers so keen to say Couzens is an “ex” officer?
? Read our Wayne Couzens sentencing blog for the latest updates
A kindly interpretation would be that they don’t want women to be afraid of the people whose job it is to keep them safe. But it is far more likely that these careful references to “ex” this and “former” that were spin.
I say “spin”, but in my time as a political journalist, I’ve never seen Westminster spin doctors perform this kind of sleight of hand. They would consider it too grim, even for their dark arts.
Only after the backlash against this spin became deafening did Deputy Commissioner Sir Stephen House finally say the Met “should own this”.
Good. The Met needs to take a long hard look at itself.
Sure, perhaps a serving policeman could randomly go rogue and use his office as a means of kidnapping a woman. But this wasn’t what happened with Couzens.
Far from being out of the blue, there was a sea of red flags running back more than a decade. In 2002, a colleague reported that Couzens was “attracted to violent sexual pornography”.
The most horrifying detail was that he garnered the nickname “The Rapist” when working for the Civil Nuclear Constabulary because he made some female colleagues feel uncomfortable.
There was an indecent exposure allegation made against him in 2015 — three years before he was even hired by the Met. Worse still, the force took no action against him when there were two separate alleged incidents of indecent exposure at a McDonald’s just days before the murder.
Could the Met have stopped Couzens from setting off on his disgusting trip to find a lone woman who he could terrorise and then dispose of?
It might, had it vetted him properly, have stopped him from becoming a police officer.
It might have removed his warrant card after the indecent exposure allegations so that he couldn’t use it to “arrest” Sarah. He wasn’t even the only police officer to abuse his position in the past couple of years.
‘ONE BAD APPLE’
One, Oliver Banfield, working for the West Midlands Police, grabbed a woman on a dark street in July 2020 and put her in a headlock while pretending to summon colleagues for help.
He eventually lost his job — but was spared jail.
Every time there is an incident like this, whether it’s the assault by battery that Banfield admitted, or worse, the police try to dismiss the perpetrators as just one bad apple.
What they never do is look back at their own branches to see if they’re rotten too.
Are they really properly vetting and screening people who apply? Why don’t nicknames like “The Rapist” lead to more questions?
Couzens shouldn’t have been a police officer — let alone one handling firearms — well before he became a killer.
Why were so many warnings ignored?
These are the questions the Met and all other forces in the UK must face up to if they are truly “sickened” by Couzens.
And the answer has to be something stronger than the cop-out “we’re not like him”.