Metropolitan Police: Our response to issues raised by the crimes of Wayne Couzens
Wayne Couzens has been sentenced to a whole-life term for the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard.
The full horrific details of his crimes are deeply concerning and raise entirely legitimate questions.
This is the most horrific of crimes, but we recognise this is part of a much bigger and troubling picture.
There have been other horrific murders of women in public spaces, including the killings of Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry, and very recently of Sabina Nessa.
All of these bring into sharp focus our urgent duty to do more to protect women and girls.
First and foremost, here are some of the measures we have introduced:
• We will soon publish a new strategy for tackling violence against women and girls. This will outline how we will prioritise action against sexual and violent predatory offenders.
• We have established specialist Predatory Offender Units and since last November they have arrested more than 2,000 suspects for domestic abuse, sex offences and for child abuse.
• The Met is growing and we are deploying 650 new officers into busy public places, including those where women and girls often lack confidence that they are safe.
• We are also stepping up reassurance patrols and providing an increased police presence where it is most needed by identifying key “hotspot” locations for offences of violence and harassment. We are allocating officers solely for patrol in those areas.
• Understanding the concerns of women in London is really important to us and we are undertaking a range of activity so we can better listen and respond.
We expect the best of our officers and when they fall below our standards they undermine the public’s trust in us.
Couzens’ crimes are the most extreme example of this betrayal. They have been shattering for everybody and of course people have questions about the integrity of officers.
We only want the best of the best in the Met and we will always act when our employees fall below the standards we and the public expect and erode the trust we depend upon.
All officers must and will now expect to work harder to gain the confidence of the public and be understanding and tolerant of reasonable questioning of their actions and identity as they go about their duty to protect Londoners.
Background on Wayne Couzens
Wayne Couzens transferred into the Met from the Civil Nuclear Constabulary (CNC) in September 2018. His first posting was to South Area, serving initially in a Safer Neighbourhood Team, before joining a response team covering the Bromley area in February 2019.
He then moved to the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Command in February 2020 where his primary role was to patrol diplomatic premises, mainly embassies.
Couzens stopped being paid as a police officer immediately following his guilty pleas. This was as soon as legally possible. The Met held an accelerated misconduct hearing following his guilty plea. He was dismissed on 16 July.
Couzens was a serving and vetted police officer when he joined the Met. He had no criminal convictions or cautions and he was not subject to any misconduct proceedings during his time at the Met.
We are not aware of any other concerns raised by his colleagues, or anyone else, regarding his behaviour prior to him joining the Met or since.
Following his arrest, as the public would expect, we reviewed his vetting. This review confirmed he passed vetting processes.
However, it also found one of a range of checks may not have been undertaken correctly.
This check related to information regarding a vehicle which was registered to Couzens and that was linked to an allegation of indecent exposure in Kent in 2015.
Kent Police investigated this allegation and decided to take no further action. Our review found that the record of this allegation and outcome may not have been found during the vetting checks.
However, the review we conducted found that despite this there was no information available to the Met at the time that would have changed the vetting decision.
We continue to build up a picture of Couzens’ career and wider activities. We would like to appeal for anyone who has information of concern about Couzens - whether police colleagues or members of the public - to contact us directly.
We want the public to have confidence in our vetting and are taking extra measures to ensure our processes are the best they can be and address any potential weaknesses.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) is currently conducting an inspection of the Met . We have formally written to the Inspectorate and asked that their work in this, and in the annual all-force police effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy inspection, pays particular attention to our vetting practices.
Vetting is a snapshot in time and unfortunately, can never 100% guarantee an individual’s integrity.
Vetting is one of a number of activities that we undertake to preserve the integrity of our organisation and it is only as good as the day on which it is carried out.
Therefore we re-vet officers periodically. We have Right Line, a confidential number which allows officers and staff to anonymously report wrongdoing. We have our dedicated Directorate of Professional Standards who are committed to proactively rooting out officers who do not meet our standards and let the public and the police down. Not only that but we have internal and external inspections to scrutinise our processes.
Uniform and police equipment
Couzens betrayed Sarah and all of us when he used his knowledge, status and equipment to deceive and abduct Sarah and we do not understate the impact this has had on public confidence.
The fact that he used equipment given to him by the Met is reprehensible and it compounds the dreadful nature of his crimes.
Nevertheless, it has to be the case that officers are able, on occasion, to take some or all of their equipment with them, between places of duty and where needed, travelling to and from work. They do not require explicit permission. It is a personal decision that has to be done for legitimate reasons and that they will have to justify if challenged.
Couzens used his warrant card as part of his deception to identify himself as a police officer. Every officer carries a warrant card.
Officers must only use their warrant cards for specific purposes – identification or to demonstrate they are acting as a police officer.
Met officers also take an oath where they promise to be a police officer around the clock and are expected to intervene even if off duty if they see someone committing an offence or there is another need to protect the public. In these circumstances their warrant card helps them identify themselves and demonstrate they are acting as an officer.
The Met received an allegation of indecent exposure some 72 hours before Sarah was abducted. That crime was allocated for investigation but by the time of Sarah’s abduction it was not concluded.
The progress of that investigation was voluntarily referred to the Independent Office for Police Conduct and is subject to an investigation by them. It also remains the subject of a live criminal inquiry.
It is important for us to re-evaluate our approach to indecent exposure. This is part of our re-evaluation of our strategy for tackling violence against women and girls.
We are reviewing our crime screening process in respect of indecent exposure. We want to better understand the information we have as part of our approach to the identification and policing of crime hotspots.
We believe this is an under-reported crime.
We do not underestimate how difficult it can be for people to talk about these offences but we would urge anyone who is the victim of this sort of offending to report it to us quickly so we can respond.
We are also focused on improving detections both for indecent exposure but for a broader range of offences committed mainly against women.
What to do if you have concerns an officer is threat to you / How do you prove an officer is genuine?
We completely hear the legitimate concerns being raised and we know women are worried. All our officers are concerned about the impact of these horrific crimes on trust in the police and we want to do all we can to rebuild that trust.
It is unusual for a single plain clothes police officer to engage with anyone in London. If that does happen, and it may do for various reasons, in instances where the officer is seeking to arrest you, you should then expect to see other officers arrive shortly afterwards.
However, if that doesn’t happen and you do find yourself in an interaction with a sole police officer and you are on your own, it is entirely reasonable for you to seek further reassurance of that officer’s identity and intentions.
Our advice is to ask some very searching questions of that officer:
- Where are your colleagues?
- Where have you come from?
- Why are you here?
- Exactly why are you stopping or talking to me?
Try to seek some independent verification of what they say, if they have a radio ask to hear the voice of the operator, even ask to speak through the radio to the operator to say who you are and for them to verify you are with a genuine officer, acting legitimately.
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.
If you feel you are in real and imminent danger and you do not believe the officer is who they say they are seek assistance by shouting out to a passer-by or if you are in the position to do so call 999.