Police have been told to attend flashing cases in person as it emerged forces failed to carry out proper investigations into Wayne Couzens’ earlier alleged sex crimes.
Zoe Billingham, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, said indecent exposure should be treated with “the utmost seriousness” rather than as a “low level” offence.
Just six per cent of offences of exposure or voyeurism reported to the police result in prosecution, according to Ministry of Justice (MoJ) figures.
Ms Billingham, an HM inspector of police, told The Telegraph that every case should be investigated or attended if there was an “evidential opportunity” and forces should introduce extra patrols in any hotspot where a flasher was known to be.
“Indecent exposure is an incredibly risky act and police should see it as a huge red flag that could escalate,” she said. “Anyone doing it is a risk to women and should be treated as such.”
The Independent Office of Police Conduct (IOPC) is looking at why Couzens was not arrested before his behaviour escalated from alleged flashing offences, culminating in the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard in March this year.
He was investigated by Kent Police in 2015 after a man spotted him driving naked from the waist down. Despite being identified as the suspect, he was not arrested and the Civil Nuclear Constabulary (CNC), where he was working as an armed officer at the time, was not informed.
It meant that when he was transferred to the Metropolitan Police in 2018, he was not vetted, despite being nicknamed "The Rapist" when he worked at the CNC.
Two Met officers are also being investigated after Couzens was reported for two incidents of indecent exposure in a McDonald’s restaurant in south London in February, three days before he abducted Ms Everard, pictured below.
Messages and floral tributes were left by well-wishers to honour murder victim Sarah Everard at the bandstand on Clapham Common in south London on March 14 this year
Police were given CCTV from the incident along with a description and registration of the car being driven by the suspect, but no action appears to have been taken by police.
In 2020, 10,024 exposure or voyeurism cases were reported to the police, but separate figures from the Ministry of Justice show that in the same year, just 594 – or six per cent – were prosecuted for the same crimes. Of these prosecutions, just 435 were successfully convicted.
Figures show that even before the pandemic, police were failing to get a grip on the problem with 10,709 cases reported in 2019 and just 735 prosecutions – a prosecution rate of around seven per cent.
This is despite a rise of nearly a third in the number of cases in the past decade from 7,516.
However, thousands of the offences remain unreported. The Office for National Statistics estimates that around 147,000 individuals – almost all women – were victims of indecent exposure in 2019-20 alone.
The data, from the Ministry of Justice, shows that most people prosecuted were men aged in their 30s or 40s. Just seven were women.
Dame Vera Baird, the victims’ commissioner, said police should endeavour to investigate all cases. “Flashing is abusive, appalling and highly sexualised way to behave to a woman,” she said. “It should raise a red flag about a man’s approach to women, especially as a police officer.
“That was not investigated the first time and clearly not the second. It was a complete failure of policing their own people and a complete failure to see a red flag.”