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Angiolini Inquiry: Time for Radical Reform

Last month, the Inquiry into the 2021 murder of Sarah Everard, published the first part of its report, focusing on her murderer, former police officer Wayne Couzens.

Couzens, who was off-duty, murdered 33 year old Sarah after kidnapping her under the false guise of an arrest. He pled guilty to kidnap, rape and murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment with a whole life order, a punishment that is reserved only for the most serious cases. Judge Fulford, when justifying the severity of the punishment, explained that the abuse of his position as a police officer, was the “vital factor which in my view makes the seriousness of this case exceptionally high.’ He remarked further that … it is expected that the police will act in the public interest; indeed, the authority of the police is to a truly significant extent dependent on the public’s consent, and the power of officers to detain, arrest and otherwise control important aspects of our lives is only effective because of the critical trust that we repose in the constabulary, that they will act lawfully and in the best interests of society. If that is undermined, one of the enduring safeguards of law and order in this country is inevitably jeopardised.” Couzins was also later charged with a number of counts of indecent exposure, and his former police colleagues jailed for multiple grossly offensive messages.

The harrowing circumstances surrounding the murder of Sarah, along with an increased reporting of crimes against women in the aftermath, sparked intense debate around police violence and women’s public safety. Across the capital, the collective feeling of grief, rage and fear amongst women was palpable and started a widespread movement that called for cultural, structural, and legal change to protect women and girls. The events triggered a visceral response, impossible for the establishment to ignore. In late 2021, the then Home Secretary, Priti Patel announced to Parliament that she was launching an independent inquiry which would be led by the Right Honourable Dame Elish Angiolini QC and be non-statutory in the hope that the faster process would give Sarah Everard’s family “closure as quickly as possible.” Patel confirmed that the Inquiry would be made up of two parts, the first, to establish how Couzins was able to serve as a police officer and seek a definitive account of his conduct. The latter part of the Inquiry, yet to be published, would address the wider societal issues surrounding the safety of women and to help restore confidence and public trust in policing.

The first part of the Angiolini Inquiry Report, which was released earlier this year, made numerous condemnatory remarks as to the sexist and misogynistic behaviour that exists within policing today. The Inquiry found that Couzins was “a predatory sex offender and murderer”, and that his most recent crimes had not been committed in isolation, with evidence of his behaviour dating back almost 30 years prior to the murder of Sarah.

Within her report, Dame Angiolini notes that when victims of Couzins’ depraved crimes reported the offending, they were not taken sufficiently seriously by police who were inadequately trained and lacked motivation to investigate the allegations. In relation to crimes committed by Couzins in 2015 and 2021, she concludes that investigations were “destined to fail from the start” and “rather than embarking on a process of detailed, thorough and time-consuming evidence-gathering, the officers displayed apathy and disinterest and found reasons not to pursue the cases.” A worrying revelation in light of National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) statistics last year that found women are disproportionately victims of violent crimes.

Whilst the Inquiry could not make any conclusive finding that earlier intervention would have prevented the horrific crimes committed by Couzins against Sarah, it does acknowledge that “more thorough and committed investigation of reports of alleged indecent exposure in particular would almost certainly have brought him to the attention of his employers, and could have led to prosecution, his removal from policing roles and outright dismissal.”

The report also went on to criticize the recruitment vetting procedure and the assessment in which concluded that Couzens was authorised use of a firearm, stating that it should have been more robust.

The report identified a culture within the police force which often excused criminalities as ‘banter.’ and made a number of recommendations to improve the police recruitment and vetting processes and their handling of the reporting of sexual offenses and investigations. The full details of the recommendations can be found here:

The Angiolini Inquiry

Running almost parallel to the Angiolini Inquiry and in a further attempt to recognise the serious levels of public concern following the crimes of serving police officers, the Metropolitan Police Service (The Met) appointed Baroness Louise Casey to lead an independent review of its own cultures, standards, and behaviour. The ‘Casey Review’ has been equally as damning as the Angiolini Inquiry, reporting institutional failings across the organisation, specifically highlighting serious shortcomings in the following areas:

  • After a decade of austerity, frontline policing has been deprioritised and degraded.
  • There is institutional racism, sexism, and homophobia inside the organisation influencing how officers and staff are treated, and negatively affecting how communities are policed.
  • The Met is failing women and children and it is unable to police itself.

The ‘bad apple’ theory has often been perpetuated in relation to Couzins. However, the NPCC reported last year that more than 1,500 police officers were accused of violence against women in a 6 month period, with many taking the view that it is a systemic issue, deep rooted and rotten at the core. The Casey review has reaffirmed this perception, concluding that “everyone now needs to recognise that its failings go well beyond the actions of ‘bad apple’ officers......on top of the unimaginable crimes of individuals and the shocking series of events that have hit the service in recent years, the way in which the Met has responded to them is also a symptom of a wider malaise in an organisation that has fundamentally lost its way.”

The full report can be found here:

https://www.met.police.uk/SysSiteAssets/media/downloads/met/about-us/baroness-casey-review/update-march-2023/baroness-casey-review-press-notice.pdf

The revelations of the Reports appear to have also caused concern at Westminster, with PM Rishi Sunak stating “Police must urgently make changes to earn that trust back. No woman should ever feel unsafe on our streets.”  The sentiment echoed by leader of the opposition Sir Keir Starmer who stated this shouldn’t become “just another report rather, than the beginning of real, lasting change.”

The final report from the Angiolini Inquiry is to be provided within 2 years, in which time we hope to see the beginnings of an overhaul in policing, specifically in relation to crimes against women.

Saunders Law specialises in aiding the victims of abuse at the hands of the police. If you are a victim or you know a victim who needs help, contact our human rights team today on 0207 632 4300 or make an enquiry and we will contact you.

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