Concern over format meaning inquiry relies on Metropolitan Police cooperation and cannot compel witnesses to give evidence
A public inquiry into the failures that let Sarah Everard’s murderer remain a police officer is a “wasted opportunity” without legal powers to “get to the truth”, campaigners have warned.
Priti Patel announced the probe at the Conservative Party conference on Tuesday, saying the public “need answers” over the case and wider issues in policing.
“There will be an inquiry, to give the independent oversight needed to ensure something like this can never happen again," elle a ajouté.
But women’s advocates, MPs and legal groups raised concerns after it emerged that the inquiry is not currently on a statutory footing, meaning that it will rely on voluntary cooperation from the police métropolitaine and cannot compel witnesses to give evidence.
There were also questions about the suggested scope for the probe, which will initially focus on Wayne Couzens before being widened out to “wider issues across policing” – possibly including vetting, professional standards and workplace behaviour.
The former Metropolitan Police officer was sentenced to a whole-life term last week for the kidnap, viol et meurtre de Sarah Everard.
Couzens likely snatched the marketing executive using his warrant card and handcuffs during a fake Covid arrest as she walked home in south London on the evening of 3 March this year.
There are growing calls for answers as to why someone dubbed “the rapist” by colleagues was not properly vetted after the Met admitted a previous allegation of indecent exposure might have been missed.
The killer was also linked to other flashing incidents, two of which occurred just days before Ms Everard’s murder.
The co-founder of Reclaim These Streets, a women’s safety group formed after Ms Everard’s murder, Raconté L'indépendant that the inquiry must be statutory and judge-led to “carry as much weight as possible”.
“We can’t just let Priti Patel handpick a chair and we can’t risk the police frustrating the process,” Anna Birley said.
“The inquiry should look at misogyny in British policing and if it’s there, it should look at the causes and if it’s institutionalised.
“If it doesn’t do that, it risks perpetuating the falsehood of the ‘one bad apple’ argument. Couzens is an extreme example but he’s not the only cop with bad attitudes towards women.”
Pippa Woodrow, a barrister acting for Reclaim These Streets, said the probe should also look at the wider policing response to an “epidemic” of violence against women.
“I’m concerned about the ability of such a narrow focus to examine the systemic issues that will actually make women safer," elle a ajouté.
Reclaim These Streets is pursuing legal action against Scotland Yard over its response to a vigil for Ms Everard on Clapham Common, after the force refused to facilitate the event and shut it down amid a dispute over coronavirus laws.
The new inquiry comes months after the Metropolitan Police was found to be “institutionally corrupt” by a probe into the unsolved 1987 murder of a private detective.
En juin, the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel said the force’s “first objective was to protect itself” and added: “Concealing or denying failings for the sake of an organisation’s public image is dishonesty for reputational benefit, and constitutes a form of institutional corruption.”
Yvette Cooper, chair of the Home Affairs Committee, said the findings created concerns that there will be “delays and obstacles if the Couzens inquiry does not have statutory powers to get to the truth”.
“Sarah Everard was murdered by someone she should have been able to trust and who was charged with keeping people safe," elle a ajouté.
“We need full answers on how this was able to happen and what needs to change. This inquiry must be strong enough and wide ranging enough to answer those urgent questions.”
The Centre for Women’s Justice said it must not “be an opportunity to gloss over the clear and serious state failures around the policing of male violence against women”.
“There have been myriad investigations and claims of ‘lessons learnt’ over the years but nothing changes and very little appears to have been learned,” said director Harriet Wistrich.
“Plainly, limiting an inquiry to failures around Couzens alone is a wasted opportunity.”
Nick Thomas-Symonds, Labour’s shadow home secretary, called the announcement “half-hearted” and said the inquiry must be “put on a robust, statutory footing to ensure there are no barriers in the way to getting answers”.
“Taking action on the issue of violence against women and girls cannot be delayed for months or even years pending the outcome of the inquiry," il ajouta, calling for the government to implement recommendations from a September report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary.
The watchdog said “radical” change was needed to stop an epidemic of violence against women and girls in Britain, and that the issue should be prioritised as highly as terrorism.
Prosecutions have hit record lows in recent years, with only 3.5 per cent of all sexual offences et 1.5 per cent of rapes now resulting in a charge in England and Wales.
Martin Hewitt, président du Conseil national des chefs de police, admitted that the issues raised by Ms Everard’s murder were “bigger than one man”.
“There are issues for the whole of policing that need to be examined and acted on, from vetting to professional standards, to how predatory or misogynistic behaviour is challenged," il ajouta.
“It’s right for these issues to be fully and independently considered, and we will support the inquiry’s work in every way we can.”
Mr Hewitt said police were working to rebuild women’s trust, ajouter: “We will be honest with ourselves that misogynistic societal attitudes and behaviours exist in policing, and that it matters so much because of the powers we hold and because our legitimacy is built on public confidence.”
The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners said the murder had “shattered the bond of trust” with the public, and that policing needed to “ensure its own house is in order”.
Mardi, the Home Office also announced an inspection of vetting and counter-corruption procedures by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, which will include how forces detect “misogynistic and predatory behaviour”.
Officials said that the inquiry could be put on a statutory footing in future, and that the chair and terms of reference would be confirmed in due course.
“Given the need to provide assurance as swiftly as possible, this will be established as a non-statutory inquiry, but can be converted to a statutory inquiry if required,” a statement added.