Angiolini report on Sarah Everard’s case instructs police forces on tackling sexual misconduct

The Angiolini Inquiry reported multiple failings by the police in treating sexual misconduct within the force with the right severity. Specifically in Sarah Everard’s case, many red flags were not taken serious enough by the police.

The inquiry, was commissioned by the Home Office to understand how MET police officer Wayne Couzens managed to commit the crime against Sarah Everard, and published on February 29 by Lady Elish Angiolini, few days before the third anniversary of her death.

On March 3, 2021, Everard was walking home when she was abducted in a busy street in London and later raped and murdered, all by an off-duty MET police officer.

The report identifies Couzens as someone with a preference for violent pornography and a history of sexual offending dates, and all the previous reports were never taken seriously by the police.

Abuse of power is one of the main issues in this case. Couzens used his position multiple times to intimidate people and lastly used it to carry out a crime.

One of the objectives of the Angiolini report was to recommend measures to ensure that those in power do not abuse of it in the most horrific ways.

The Angiolini Report recommends 16 measures that should be taken to prevent similar cases from happening, including having a specialist policy to investigate all sexual offences, including indecent exposure, starting from September 2024.

One of the steps see a training on indecent exposure by the College of Policing in collaboration with the National Police Chief’s Council, to then make it easier to investigate the related cases. Besides, together with the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice should work to conduct a review on how this issue is treated in the criminal justice system.

Research should also be commissioned by the Home Office and the College of Policing to establish a potential connection between indecent exposure and contact offending, which could then be used to shape policy and guidance, as Angiolini suggests.

By March 2025 the Home Office with the National Police Chief’s Council aim to launch a public campaign to raise awareness of the criminality of indecent exposure and to encourage victims to report.

With immediate effect all new applicants will be better reviewed and scrutinised before joining the work force, along with a better quality and consistency of police vetting decision-making, starting from March 2025, to prevent unsuitable people to join the workforce.

Angiolini also suggests that the College of Policing ensure that all the information-sharing practices are strengthened.

Police forces should also immediately communicate to all the officers that they must be held to a greater standard of behaviour and that their right to privacy can be fettered in certain circumstances.

Vetting aftercare should also have a stronger approach by all force vetting units, to make sure of knowing if any change of circumstances happens regarding an individual during his career.

Senior leaders recognised that increased recruitment must work alongside vetting and better communication and information-sharing between all the teams within policing.

They also believe, agreeing with the inquiry, that all the previous strategies adopted to tackle violence against women, lack long term funding and national governance to control the specialist skills to manage this threat.

Nontheless some senior leaders maintained, in the Inquiry’s view, an optimistic perception of the police force, a senior leader told the Inquiry: “I hope that banter of a sexist and misogynistic nature did not exists […] although I do accept that people use humour sometimes when under stress.”

The Commissioner of the MET Police Service, Mark Rowley, believes is not fair to criticise people when they have not been given the skills, confidence, and competence to do their role efficiently.

Senior leaders also repeatedly informed the inquiry about the rising number of female police officers, seeing it as a positive sign and shift.

Despite such a shift the report mentions that the removal of misogynist attitudes is not guaranteed.

A huge flower response to the murder of Sarah Everard, at Clapham Common, where she was last seen.
Flower response for Sarah Everard Credit: Gerry Popplestone/Flickr

Couzens is not the only police officer to abuse his powers in this way. An investigation on the report carried out by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) 2022/23 (which oversees police complaints in England and Wales) shows that out of 232 officers investigated last year 108 of them were found guilty of sexual misconduct.

Since 2017 almost 2,000 officers have been accused of sexual misconduct, of which 300 with a history of it and, more than 60% received no disciplinary action.

Since Everard’s death the Home Office have commissioned reviews, schemes, and investigations to improve the police response on similar cases.

The inquiry was told by senior leaders of policing organisations that because these crimes are so prevalent in society, they occur even in policing.

The deputy director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, Deniz Ugur, in a response to the IOPC data, said that although the data is alarming, it is not surprising, given the misogyny and inequality are so rooted and normalised in the patriarchal society we live in, which our justice agencies take part in.

One woman a week reports domestic abuse by a police officer, according to the IOPC and failures to notice ‘red flags’ as noted by Lady Angiolini in holding them accountable shows a systematic issue in the police workforce, according Ugur.

The Angiolini Inquiry received evidence of several sexual offences committed by Couzens, including a sexual assault on a child in her early teens.

The MET Police, regarding Couzens, failed to further explore allegations of indecent exposure before accepting him into the work force.

In the early stages of the Inquiry, a common theory was considering Couzens as a ‘bad apple’, someone who uniquely jeopardised the police’s reputation this ‘theory’ was soon demolished by Baroness Casey in her review into standards of behaviour in the Met Police and by the imprisonment of a second officer from Couzens’ unit for raping and sexual offence.

Through the inquiry it was made known that Couzens had previously committed an offence of kidnapping and was never caught.

When questioned for it after the victim re-contacted the police as she saw him in 2021 appearing on the media, he remained unpunished because of “evidential difficulties”. This is but one of the allegations that came out after Everard’s death accusing him of sexual harassment or misconduct.

The inquiry learnt that during his employment by the MET he was part of a WhatsApp group where inappropriate messages and comments were shared about victims of domestic violence.

None of the previous sexual offences that the officer committed were reported at the time they happened, as in the view of the inquiry it is often the case victims do not feel comfortable reporting such crimes because they fear not being believed.

The report concluded that Wayne Couzens was not a product of his work environment, but that his misogynistic view of women was not discouraged.

The report called on all police forces to begin to tackle this on-going issue. 

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