Why the David Carrick case means a statutory public inquiry into the Metropolitan Police Service is needed more than ever
Police officers are responsible for effectively investigating crimes and are granted the privilege of greater powers than ordinary citizens, justified on the basis that such powers allow them to fulfill this responsibility and protect the wider public. However, increasing numbers of reports - from officers joking about abusing women on WhatsApp, to taking selfies at crime scenes of women who have been stabbed to death, to murder and a serial rapist - reveal not only that police officers are abusing their positions, but that there is a fundamental problem within the culture of policing in the UK and women are suffering harm as a result. In this article, Rose Ireland explains why a statutory public inquiry into this issue is needed now.
What is the Angiolini Inquiry?
In 2021, the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard sent shockwaves through the country, sparking debate and concern about women’s safety and violence against women and girls, which continues to be prevalent in the UK. An added layer to the public outcry was that the perpetrator of these heinous crimes, Wayne Couzens, was a serving officer in the Metropolitan Police Service (“MPS”) – an institution tasked to protect the public.
As the investigation unfolded into Sarah’s death, it was reported in the media that there appeared to have been a number of “red flags” indicating that Couzens had a propensity for misogyny and violence against women. This included him being a member of a misogynistic WhatsApp group with other police officers (in respect of which two officers were recently convicted of sending grossly offensive messages on a public communications network) and having been accused on several occasions of indecent exposure, which appear to have been reported to the MPS and Kent Police. In spite of this, at the time of Sarah’s murder, Couzens was an armed officer in the MPS’ elite parliamentary and diplomatic protection group.
Whether these and other red flags were known but overlooked by the MPS, and whether Couzens was adequately vetted, has been the subject of the first part of a non-statutory inquiry, chaired by Dame Elish Angiolini, and first announced by then-Home Secretary Priti Patel on 5 September 2021. The second part of the Inquiry will consider the broader issues raised by this case for policing, to be informed by the findings of the first.
The first part of the Inquiry has concluded, with a final report yet to be published. The terms of reference for the second part of the Inquiry have recently been published, and a consultation about them will open on 27 January 2023. The draft terms of reference suggest that the Inquiry investigates:
- The extent to which systems, policies and processes for the recruitment, vetting and transfer of police officers are fit for purpose and help to identify those who display misogynistic and/or predatory attitudes and behaviours;
- The extent to which aspects of police culture observed across police forces enable misogynistic and/or predatory attitudes and behaviours, and what the role of standards is; and
- The extent to which existing measures to prevent sexually motivated crimes against women in public spaces are adequate.
While the expansion of the Inquiry’s terms of reference for its Part 2 to encompass police forces beyond the MPS is welcomed, for the reasons outlined below, this inquiry must be converted into a statutory inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005.
Why is a statutory public inquiry needed?
Back in February 2022, we wrote a separate blog post on why a statutory (as opposed to a non-statutory) public inquiry was needed into the MPS, and what this means.
This week, the news broke that David Carrick had pled guilty to 49 offences, including 24 counts of rape, which occurred across two decades while he was serving as a police officer in the MPS. Like Couzens, who used his role as a police officer to lure Sarah into his car, Carrick used his status as an officer to facilitate his crimes. Like in Couzens’ case, there were clear “red flags” that Carrick was abusing women; the MPS apologised after it emerged that nine allegations against Carrick of rape, domestic violence and harassment had come to the attention of the force between 2000 and 2021.
The assertion that these cases are isolated instances of “bad apples” does not stand up to scrutiny. Whilst extreme cases, the Centre For Women’s Justice (“CWJ”) explain that they are indicative of a wider systemic and very serious problem of police misogyny and abuse of powers. Reports of misogyny and sexism, as well as racism, homophobia and disability discrimination among the MPS, as well as other police forces across the country are widespread. In relation to violence against women, in March 2020 the CWJ submitted a police super-complaint on police-perpetrated domestic abuse on a national level.
The fact that such an egregious and prolific sexual offender could serve as a police officer for twenty years, when accusations were known to the force he worked in, means that serious questions need to be asked about systemic misogyny within the MPS and the police on a national level. Indeed, the MPS has announced that a total of 1,633 cases of alleged sexual offences or domestic violence involving 1,071 officers and other staff from the last 10 years are now to be reviewed to make sure the appropriate decisions were made.
It also raises a wider concern – if the police are not taking seriously allegations that violence against women is being perpetrated by their own officers, how can any victim of domestic abuse, harassment and/or rape be confident that if they report such a crime, it will be appropriately and sensitively handled and effectively investigated.
As there appears to be serious deficiencies in the manner in which police violence against women and predatory behaviour is being handled, as well as a culture of misogyny within the MPS, it is clear that the Angiolini Inquiry needs to be put on statutory footing.
As detailed in our previous blog post, a statutory public inquiry will:
- Instil more public confidence in its work;
- Entitle core participants in the Inquiry to state funded legal representation;
- Have greater legal powers to obtain disclosure and compel witnesses;
- Be more likely comply with the State’s human rights obligations.
The broad scope of the Angiolini Inquiry’s Part 2 draft terms of reference provides an important opportunity for the Government to take seriously and properly investigate the issue of police misogyny and violence against women. Only by being put on a statutory footing can the Angiolini Inquiry carry out an effective investigation of these issues with victims at the heart of the process.
Saunders Law has represented core participants in a number of public inquiries, including the Grenfell Inquiry, the Infected Blood Inquiry, the Undercover Policing Inquiry and the Covid-19 Inquiry.
If you have reported a crime committed by a police officer against you which has not been adequately investigated, you may have grounds for a claim against the police. Contact us for more information.