Cleverly: Anyone not fit to wear uniform must be removed from policing

Police officers will be automatically suspended in future if charged with certain criminal offences, the Home Secretary has said.

James Cleverly said action is being taken to address public confidence in the police, telling the Commons: “Anyone who is not fit to wear the uniform for whatever reason must be removed from policing and every effort must be made to ensure that similar people never join.”

Mr Cleverly, responding to the first part of an independent report on killer police officer Wayne Couzens, reminded MPs about efforts to give police chiefs more power over misconduct hearings.

He went on: “And there will be a presumption for dismissal for any officer found to have committed gross misconduct.

“I can announce today that there will also be an automatic suspension of police officers charged with certain criminal offences.”

The Home Office said any officer charged with an indictable offence will be automatically suspended from duty until an outcome is reached. These are the most serious crimes which must be dealt with by crown courts.

But this does not extend to charges of indecent exposure, despite concerns about how the crime is dealt with. There will be a presumption that officers will be suspended for either way offences like indecent exposure, which can be dealt with by magistrate or crown courts. Chief constables will need a clear reason to stray from this direction, the Home Office suggested. Suspension for all other offences would be at the discretion of force leaders.

Home Secretary James Cleverly
Home Secretary James Cleverly said police forces ‘must command the confidence of the people that they serve’ (UK Parliament/Maria Unger/PA)

Mr Cleverly also told MPs: “Most police officers, of course, use their powers to serve the public bravely and well, but when they fall short the impact can be devastating.

“Society cannot function properly where trust in police is eroded.

“I am unambiguous that police forces must keep improving and must command the confidence of the people that they serve.

“It is imperative that police leadership, of whatever rank, plays their part in this endeavour.”

Mr Cleverly earlier said a “deeply distressing but incredibly important piece of work” had been produced by Lady Elish Angiolini, saying: “Everyone who Couzens hurt is in my thoughts today.

“The report makes 16 recommendations and they include improving the police response to indecent exposure, reforming police recruitment and vetting practices and addressing cultures within policing.

“The Government will now, of course, carefully consider the report and respond formally in due course, and I can assure the House our response will be prompt.”

For Labour, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the inquiry had exposed “a catalogue of appalling failures” and described Mr Cleverly’s response as “too weak”.

Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper called Mr Cleverly’s response ‘weak’ (Maja Smiejkowska/PA)

She said: “Wayne Couzens should never have been a police officer, he should have been stopped and he could have been stopped from being a police officer.

“It is truly appalling his history of alleged sexual offending stretches back so many years and yet opportunities to investigate were repeatedly missed, and most disturbing of all, Lady Angiolini says there is nothing to stop another Wayne Couzens operating in plain sight.”

Ms Cooper added: “Although I agree with most of what the Home Secretary has said, I have to be really blunt about this, his response is too weak, it is too little and it is too late, and the lack of urgency is unfathomable to me.”

Ms Cooper also said the murder of Sarah Everard by Couzens in 2021 should have been a “watershed” moment for addressing women’s safety concerns.

She said: “The reality on women’s safety is the number of prosecutions for domestic abuse has halved, rape prosecutions are still taking years, early action and intervention just does not happen and there is a shocking drift on women’s safety, there is a shocking drift on what the Home Secretary has said today.”

She later said: “We say that this report should be a watershed, but we said Sarah Everard’s murder three years ago should be a watershed and far too little has changed. How long must we go on and say the same things?”

Conservative former home secretary Dame Priti Patel said police forces around the country need to “raise the bar” when it comes to vetting and urged the Government to “act very swiftly” on the recommendations.

Dame Priti said she hoped the Angiolini Inquiry report had given Miss Everard’s family “some sense of the facts that they asked for around what happened to their beautiful daughter”.

She said: “This is a clear call for action when it comes to all police forces around the country to raise the bar on consistency, as has already been mentioned, when it comes not just to vetting but to action.

“There is no place for criminal conduct at all or corrupt conduct in policing, we police by consent in our country and that bond has been broken.”