‘Critical’ to scrutinise vetting and professional standards – police chief

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Vetting and professional standards procedures must be scrutinised to restore public confidence after the murder of Sarah Everard, a police chief has said.

Martin Hewitt said it was “critical” to “deal with” these areas as he welcomed plans by the Government to launch an independent inquiry to look at the “systematic failures” that allowed her killer Wayne Couzens to be employed as a police officer.

The chairman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) told the PA news agency: “Both of those areas are absolutely critical for us to deal with … to restore public confidence in the service. And I think having an independent inquiry is a very good way for that to be to be dealt with to really help us provide that reassurance.”

While there were “very clear” vetting policies which are continually reviewed, with checks on officers throughout their career, he said: “Whilst I have confidence in the processes that we have, the reality is that there are clearly issues that emerge from this specific case, so I think it warrants us looking again and working with those other bodies to ensure that we are learning every lesson that we can around not only the policies, but also the practice of how that vetting is taking place in individual forces.”

Professional standards procedures also “warrant a very clear look at whether we are, in all cases, operating those processes and those procedures as well as we should do and we can do”, he said, adding: “The confidence of the public is absolutely paramount, that people recognise and understand that we are doing things properly because of the powers that we have as police officers, but also it’s about the confidence of the service.”

Police “cannot and are not waiting for the findings of this inquiry to begin rebuilding women’s trust that police officers will protect and respect them”, Mr Hewitt said ahead of a meeting of all chief constables on Wednesday to discuss what “immediate action” can be taken.

Mr Hewitt told how the case had sent “shockwaves” through every force in the country and described how police felt “betrayed” by Couzens, adding: “Individually and collectively, we’ve been disgusted, quite frankly, by the revelations that have emerged and the last weekend has been … one of the hardest.”

How this has affected women and girls is the “most important” but the effect on “hard working, conscientious” police must not be underestimated, he said, adding: “Police officers out there now recognise that we have a responsibility to rebuild that trust.”

Asked if there was a problem with misogyny in policing, Mr Hewitt said: “There is a problem with misogyny in all parts of society, and the police is a subsection of society.

“But, as I say, we have a particular responsibility, being the police service, and we have very clear standards of behaviour, we have a very clear code of ethics, and when people fail to live up to that standard, then it needs to be dealt with.”

Although stopping short of endorsing calls for misogyny to be a hate crime, he said “clearly there is an issue” which became “very clear” in the aftermath of Ms Everard’s murder, adding: “I think what we’ve got to do though is identify changes in the way that we operate that are going to actually make a difference to the experience of women and girls.”

While there are a range of offences the police can already look to use for perpetrators, the NPCC will be “picking up this very issue” as part of its work, he said, but stressed the “most important issue” was to “take action that is going to have a material difference to the experience of women and girls”.

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