Patel announces inquiry into ‘systematic failures’ after Sarah Everard murder

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Undated family handout photo of Sarah Everard issued by the Crown Prosecution Service. Police officer Wayne Couzens, 48, has been handed a whole life order at the Old Bailey for the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah. (Family handout/PA) Issue date: Thursday September 30, 2021. (PA Media)
Undated family handout photo of Sarah Everard issued by the Crown Prosecution Service. Police officer Wayne Couzens, 48, has been handed a whole life order at the Old Bailey for the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah. (Family handout/PA) Issue date: Thursday September 30, 2021. (PA Media)

An independent inquiry will be launched into the “systematic failures” that allowed Sarah Everard’s killer to be employed as a police officer, the Home Secretary has announced.

Speaking at the Conservative Party conference, Priti Patel said the public needs answers to ensure “something like this can never happen again” after Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens kidnapped, raped and murdered the 33-year-old marketing executive.

She said: “The public have a right to know what systematic failures enabled his continued employment as a police officer.

“We need answers as to why this was allowed to happen.

“I can confirm today there will be an inquiry, to give the independent oversight needed, to ensure something like this can never happen again.”

The Home Secretary claimed she has “redoubled” her efforts to help make women and girls feel safer, telling the conference in Manchester on Tuesday: “All our thoughts remain with Sarah Everard’s family and friends.

“Her murderer, whose name I will not repeat, was a monster. His explicit intention was to instil fear and terror in women and girls.

“I say this as Home Secretary, but also as a woman – such unconscionable crimes and acts of violence against women and girls have no place in our society.

“That is why I have redoubled my efforts to ensure women and girls feel safer.”

The Home Office said the inquiry will be made up of two parts – first examining Couzens’ previous behaviour and establishing a “definitive account of his conduct leading up to his conviction, as well as any opportunities missed, drawing on the Independent Office for Police Conduct’s (IOPC) investigations, once concluded.”

The second will look at any specific problems raised by the first part of the inquiry, which could include wider issues across policing – such as vetting practices, professional standards and discipline, and workplace behaviour.

Harriet Wistrich, director of Centre For Women’s Justice, said: “Any inquiry must not be an opportunity to kick into the long grass or gloss over the clear and serious state failures around the policing of male violence against women.”

The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said the inquiry must leave “no stone unturned” and must “also address reports of widespread cultural issues”.

Labour’s Yvette Cooper, chairwoman of the Commons Home Affairs committee, said the inquiry was “very welcome” and it was “important that it looks more widely at handling of allegations of violence against women and girls by police officers and staff.”

But the plans came under fire from shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson initially dodged calls to back a public inquiry.

He said: “Labour has been calling for a full independent inquiry for days, yet the Prime Minister refused to support one. Now the Home Secretary has half-heartedly announced one, but not put it on a robust, statutory footing to ensure there are no barriers in the way to getting answers.”

We 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

Martin Hewitt, National Police Chiefs’ Council

The Home Office said a non-statutory inquiry will be established, given the “need to provide assurance as swiftly as possible”, but this can be converted to a statutory inquiry, where witnesses can be compelled to give evidence, if required.

Mr Thomas-Symonds also called for urgent legal reforms so action on violence against women and girls is not “delayed” pending the outcome of the inquiry.

Ms Patel will also commission another inspection of vetting and anti-corruption procedures in policing in England and Wales to be carried out by the watchdog Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS).

This will also look at how forces detect and deal with “misogynistic and predatory behaviour”.

Initial findings are expected by the end of this year in order to inform the inquiry.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister is launching a taskforce led by the Home Secretary to see action taken across government to tackle violence against women and girls, which will meet for the first time in the autumn.

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