UK

MP Harriet Harman demands Cressida Dick resign after officer convicted of Sarah Everard murder

Josh Milton September 30, 2021
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Headshots of Harriet Harman and Cressida Dick

Harriet Harman (L) and Cressida Dick. (Getty Images)

Labour MP Harriet Harman has called on Cressida Dick to resign as Metropolitan Police commissioner after an officer was convicted of the murder of Sarah Everard.

Harman wrote to Cressida Dick after Wayne Couzens was convicted of the murder. Couzens was a serving Met Police officer, and used his position to kidnap, rape and kill Everard, a 33-year-old marketing executive.

Women’s confidence in the force “will have been shattered”, Harman wrote to Dick, who has served as commissioner since 2017.

This, Harman says, has made Dick’s position untenable.

“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.”

The MP said she has written to home secretary Pritti Patel on how to “rebuild” confidence in the police.

“I think it is not possible for you to lead these necessary actions in the Metropolitan Police,” Harman continued.

“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.”

Speaking outside the Old Bailey, Dick apologised to the public, saying Couzens had “brought shame” to her police force.

“I am absolutely horrified that this man used his position of trust to deceive and coerce Sarah, and I know you all are too,” she told reporters. “His actions were a grave betrayal of everything policing stands for.”

Cressida, who sat through the two-day hearing, called Couzens a “coward” and stressed that it is “critical” that officers can be trusted.

“This man has brought shame on the Met,” she added. “Speaking frankly, as an organisation, we have been rocked.”

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick makes a statement outside of the Old Bailey Central Criminal Court, following the sentencing of British police officer Wayne Couzens. (DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images)

“I absolutely know there are those who feel their trust in us is shaken. I recognise for some people, the precious bond of trust has been damaged.”

“I am so sorry.”

Among the changes Harman recommended are the immediate suspension of serving officers against whom there is an allegation of violence against a woman and the swift dismissal of those convicted.

In a letter addressed to Patel, Harman added that proper checks should be in place and police recruits must be scrutinised for their “attitudes to violence against women including engagement of violence during sex”.

Courses to train current service officers on such attitudes should be rolled out and failure to report colleagues for an allegation of violence must be “treated as a gross misconduct leading to dissmissal”.

Wayne Couzens pretended to arrest Sarah Everard as witnesses looked on

Britain’s longest continuously serving woman MP, Harman’s constituency of Camberwell and Peckham, in London, is just three miles from Clapham, where Couzens kidnapped Everard as she walked home.

Everard did not question when Couzens cornered her as she walked home from a friend’s house on 3 March.

She was handcuffed and escorted into the officer’s car. Her remains were found a week later in a wooded region some 60 miles away in Kent.

It was a crime that horrified Britain, renewing calls to put a stop to a culture of women accustomed to fear of violence at the hands of men.

Feminist group Sisters Uncut protest outside the central criminal court as the sentencing hearing for Wayne Couzens takes place. (Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)

The details of the crime – how Couzens “hunted” for a young woman to “kidnap and rape” and had exploited his police credentials and equipment to carry out the grisly act – left the Old Baily judge Adrian Fulford horrified.

Fulford said Couzens had “irretrievably damaged the lives of Sarah Everard’s family and friends” and “eroded the confidence that the public are entitled to have to the police force in England and Wales”.

The police officer, since dismissed, was handed a life sentence.

The judge issued a “whole life order”, typically reserved only for the most extreme murder cases, meaning that Couzens will die behind bars, without ever being eligible for parole.

He is the first police officer to ever receive such a sentence.

Now, police officials must face off against a public whose trust in the force has been deeply shaken, Zoë Billingham, an inspector of a police watchdog group, told BBC Woman’s Hour.

“We cannot dismiss Wayne Couzens as a one-off, as a rarity, as an aberration,” Billingham, of the Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services, said.

“We must see every single police force in England and Wales now stepping forward to tell its communities precisely what it is doing to ensure women are safe.”

Related topics: Cressida Dick, Harriet Harman, Sarah Everard

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