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Sarah Everard: Wayne Couzens sentencing sparks calls for Met Police commissioner Cressida Dick to resign

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The Metropolitan Police commissioner is facing calls to resign following the murder of Sarah Everard committed by a serving officer.

MP Harriet Harman says urgent action must be taken to "rebuild the shattered confidence of women in the police service", after Wayne Couzens was handed a whole-life sentence for kidnapping, raping and killing 33-year-old Sarah.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick Picture: Katie Chan
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick Picture: Katie Chan

Dame Cressida Dick has been Met Police Commissioner since 2017, when she became the first female officer to lead the force.

But Ms Harman, the Labour MP for Camberwell and Peckham who also chairs Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights, says it is "not possible" for the Met chief to oversee the changes that "must" be made and has called for her to step down.

In a statement today Ms Dick said she was "absolutely sickened" by Wayne Couzens' crimes, adding: "This man has brought shame on the Met. We have been rocked."

She concluded: "I will do everything in my power to ensure we learn any lessons. I commit to keep working with others to improve women's safety and reduce the fear of violence. There are no words that can fully express the fury and overwhelming sadness about what happened."

Her words were met with heckles of "resign!"

Ms Dick previously faced calls to resign over the disastrous way a vigil for Sarah was handled, with grieving women photographed being pinned down by officers.

Yesterday, it was revealed at a two-day sentencing hearing at the Old Bailey that Couzens had been off-duty when he kidnapped Sarah as she walked alone in Brixton in March.

But he likely used lockdown rules as an excuse to arrests and handcuff her, before driving her 80 miles to Kent where he raped and strangled her and burned her body.

Sarah Everard
Sarah Everard

He admitted all charged against him at two separate hearings in June and July and was quickly sacked from the Met in a private hearing.

Such proceedings would usually be held in public but due to "the ongoing criminal case" it was behind closed doors.

There remain questions surrounding how he got a job as an armed diplomatic protection officer.

The Old Bailey heard his probationary period was cut short and colleagues knew he was interested in "violent pornography".

In 2015 he was accused of exposure following an incident in Kent, while he was accused again of flashing two McDonald's workers in north Kent in the days before Sarah's disappearance.

There have also been reports Couzens was dubbed 'The Rapist' by colleagues in a previous force.

In a letter to Ms Dick, Ms Harman says women's confidence in the police "will have been shattered" by the "heartbreaking and horrifying killing".

The MP writes: "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.

"I have written to the Home Secretary to set out a number of actions which must be taken to rebuild the shattered confidence of women in the police service.

"I think that it is not possible for you to lead these necessary actions in the Metropolitan Police.

"I am sure that you must recognise this, and I ask you to resign to enable these changes to be taken through and for women to be able to have justified confidence in the police."

Home Secretary Priti Patel. Picture: Home Office
Home Secretary Priti Patel. Picture: Home Office

In a separate letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel Ms Harman lays out the changes she feels must be made.

She proposes that all serving officers accused of violence against a woman must be suspended, while anyone found guilty of such an offence should be dismissed from the force.

She also proposes that failing to report a fellow officer for violence against a woman must be treated as gross misconduct, while officers' attitudes to women should be closely screened.

She writes: "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."

Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, took to Twitter following today's sentencing, to say "serious questions must be answered to ensure something like this never happens again".

He wrote: "I’m determined lessons are not only learned by the Met Police - but are acted upon."

Ms Patel has said she will "continue to work with" Ms Dick.

She said: "There are important questions and challenges around the conduct of that officer."

Kent Police's Chief Constable, Alan Pughsley
Kent Police's Chief Constable, Alan Pughsley

Kent Police's chief constable, Alan Pughsley, has spoken out in a bid to reassure the public that Couzens "is not representative of police officers in Kent, or indeed the country".

He said: "We understand that as a result of the way he treated Sarah Everard there may be concerns amongst the public, particularly amongst women and girls, about being approached by police officers or knowing how best to verify their identity and the reasons for being stopped.

"I want to make it absolutely clear that Kent Police officers will always carry identification and can always be asked for verification as part of their duties.

"My officers serve this county with a great deal of pride and passion and they, like the public, will understand now more than ever why those we engage with may want more reassurance about the work we do.

"But I would add that Couzens is not representative of police officers in Kent, or indeed the country - he betrayed the very thing we take an oath to do and that is to protect life.

"I hope in time the public will realise he is the exception, not the rule, and in the meantime our thoughts are very much with those who knew Sarah."

John Apter, chair of the Police Federation - a staff association representing more than 130,000 officers across England and Wales - also spoke out following the sentencing, branding Couzens "an absolute disgrace to the police service".

He said: "I am totally ashamed that he was ever a police officer.

"I am proud to carry a warrant card, but this vile individual's abuse of that authority has cast a shadow on all those who work within policing. He has brought disgrace to our uniform."

To read more of our in depth coverage of all of the major trials coming out of crown and magistrates' courts across the county, click here.

For information on how we can report on court proceedings, click here.

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