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We keep telling you: Don’t trust the police

Wayne Couzens - Sarah Everard's killer - was not "one bad apple", but a symptom of widespread rot. People of colour and other minoritised groups have been warning about police failings for decades. 

February 29 2024, 17.59pm

Wayne Couzens, the man who raped and murdered Sarah Everard in 2021, should “never have been a police officer”. This was the central finding of Dame Elish Angiolini’s report into police failings around her murder, released this week. 

For a change, the report doesn’t assert Wayne Couzens was “one bad apple” - rather, alongside listing astonishing red flags missed by the Met over the course of his career, including several rapes or attempted rapes, the author notes that the Met told the inquiry in 2022 that Couzens would still have been recruited into the force.

This stark admission is a welcome shift in the official narrative around British policing. But for those of us from minoritised groups - people of colour, women, trans people, people with mental health conditions, anyone who has committed the cardinal sin of being poor, and everyone who falls along intersecting lines - it is not breaking news that the Met are both untrustworthy and riddled with corruption. Nor is it a shock that promised reforms are proving agonisingly slow to materialise. Most of us could have told you: don’t trust the police. Many of us have

Warnings have been ignored. The cost of snail-paced or non-existent reform is clear in the systemic failures involved in recruiting someone like Wayne Couzens; in the continued service of uniformed serial rapist David Carrick; in WhatsApp groups used to share graphic details and grisly photos of dead bodies, in clip after clip of police officers brutalising members of the public; in female officers being told to “play the game or stay quiet”. All of these recent examples point to a sickening culture of bullying and discrimination united around one central tenet of policing: protect your own.  

"An inability to acknowledge the scale of the problem, as well as ineffective levers of accountability, have perpetuated this sorry state of affairs."

These failings stretch back across decades. Baroness Doreen Lawrence, mother of Stephen Lawrence, offered a succinct description of the Met just last week: “Arrogant and resistant to change.” She wasn't speaking of the Everard murder but of the botched, racist and corrupt investigation into the murder of her son in 1993. Like with Everard, an in-depth report followed the investigation - the 1999 MacPherson report condemned the force as institutionally racist. Almost three decades later, the Casey report - published last year - reached a startlingly similar conclusion, again branding the force institutionally racist, as well as corrupt. We are not moving forward, we are stuck in a time loop.

An inability to acknowledge the scale of the problem, as well as ineffective levers of accountability, have perpetuated this sorry state of affairs. In the wake of the Casey report, Met Police Commissioner Mark Rowley accepted the findings, only to then deny the existence of institutional racism. Following the Couzens report, Home Secretary James Cleverly condemned the failures - which were even worse and more wildly varied than previously thought - but he also said that in the three years since Couzens’ heinous crime a “root and stem clean-up of the policing workforce has been underway and we have made huge strides.” 

If this is actually the case, why then did Dame Elish Angiolini conclude her report with the assertion that “without a significant overhaul, there is nothing to stop another Wayne Couzens operating in plain sight”?

The government has in fact been warned, repeatedly, about specific and serious failures of vetting and misconduct in the police. So far, their response to this new report, other than patting themselves on the back, is to announce a policy of immediate suspensions for officers who commit “certain crimes”. Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper is right to say this measure “does not go far enough”. She needs to go further, too, and present a sweeping and coherent plan to reform British policing top to bottom. 

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