Sarah Everard’s murder by police officer has ‘damaged precious bond of trust’

Dame Cressida Dick was facing calls to resign on Thursday night after she admitted that the murder of Sarah Everard by one of her officers had severely damaged the "precious bond of trust" between the police and public.

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner described the appalling actions of Wayne Couzens as one of the most dreadful events in the force’s 190-year history.

Dame Cressida said Couzens’ use of his warrant card to trick Miss Everard into thinking she was being arrested for breaching Covid regulations had "eroded the confidence that the public are entitled to have in the police".

She stressed that his actions were "gross betrayal of everything that policing stands for".

Couzens was on Thursday given a whole life sentence and will die in prison, but the fallout from the case has increased the pressure on Dame Cressida. 

Her position was previously called into question at the time of original offence over claims the Met missed opportunities to stop Couzens. 

Scotland Yard’s handling of a vigil on Clapham Common then led to a tsunami of criticism against the force, which was later exonerated by an independent review.

Priti Patel, the Home Secretary – who gave Dame Cressida a two-year extension to her contract earlier this month – said on Thursday night that there were "serious questions to be answered by the Met Police".

Harriet Harman, the senior Labour MP and former justice minister, wrote to Dame Cressida urging her to resign so that "women could once again have confidence in the police". She said the force must "rebuild the shattered confidence of women in the police service".

Her letter said the Met had missed too many warning signs about Couzens, adding: "Women need to be confident that the police are there to make them safe, not to put them at risk. Women need to be able to trust the police, not to fear them."

Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, spoke of his horror at the way Couzens had abused his position to target a victim and said it was vital people had confidence in the police.

He said: "Our police are there to protect us – and I know that officers will share in our shock and devastation at the total betrayal of this duty. People must be able to walk on our streets without fear of harm, and with full confidence that the police are there to keep them safe. No woman should have to fear harassment or violence."

Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, also said the Met had lessons to learn from what had gone wrong, adding: "There are some serious questions that need to be answered about how we ensure something like this never happens again, and I’m determined that the lessons are not only learned by the police but also acted upon."

Responding to the calls in a statement delivered outside the Old Bailey, where Couzens was sentenced to a whole life term, Dame Cressida said: "I absolutely know that there are those who feel their trust in us is shaken. I recognise that in some people a precious bond of trust has been damaged.

"Our dedication to you, our public, remains undiminished. As commissioner, I will do everything in my power to ensure we learn any lessons."

Sir Tom Winsor, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, described the murder of a Miss Everard by a serving officer as a "watershed moment" for British policing.

Mr Justice Fulford, who sentenced Couzens, concluded that the offence – in which Couzens used his cover as a police officer to falsely arrest Miss Everard before raping and murdering her – was on a par with a terrorist killing.

Miss Everard’s devastated family welcomed the whole life term but expressed their revulsion at the way Couzens had exploited his role. In a statement, they said: "Wayne Couzens held a position of trust as a police officer and we are outraged and sickened that he abused this trust in order to lure Sarah to her death."

Scotland Yard on Thursday said it would put measures in place to increase reassurance amongst the public, including not having undercover officers working alone.

Just 72 hours before his attack on Miss Everard, Couzens was reported for indecent exposure at a McDonald’s drive-thru restaurant.

It has also emerged that he passed the Met vetting process despite being investigated for an indecent exposure by Kent Police in 2015. Nick Ephgrave, Scotland Yard’s assistant commissioner, admitted that even if the force had been aware of the allegation, Couzens would have passed its vetting system because Kent Police determined it required no further action.

Zoe Billingham, one of the four inspectors of constabulary who work under Sir Tom, warned there could be a repeat of the Couzens scandal unless forces tightened their procedures for screening officers.

Asked whether it could happen again, she told The Telegraph: "I could not say hand on heart that it could not happen again. That’s why I am calling on all forces today to provide the assurance to the public that they have put in place the measures that would protect people from predators within policing."

She said forces needed to review their vetting systems, especially when officers transferred between them.

On Thursday night, the Met said it would soon publish a strategy for tackling violence against women and girls following the "horrific murders of women in public spaces, including the killings of Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry, and very recently of Sabina Nessa".

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