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Women’s groups have threatened the Home Secretary with legal action if she “fails to take urgent steps to tackle police-perpetrated abuse”.
The Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ) and 21 other national women’s organisations and campaigners said they have sent a letter before action to Priti Patel “in respect of her failure to take adequate and timely steps to set up a statutory inquiry into the wider issues arising following the conviction of Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens”.
The group may then seek to bring a judicial review against the Home Secretary if they do not feel the concerns set out in the letter are resolved.
Couzens is serving a whole-life tariff for the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard.
Last month Ms Patel announced an independent inquiry would be launched into the “systematic failures” that allowed Ms Everard’s killer to be employed as a police officer and insisted she had “redoubled” her efforts to help make women and girls feel safer.
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.
The inquiry is set to examine Couzens’ previous behaviour and then consider any specific problems this raises, which could include wider issues across policing – such as vetting practices, professional standards and discipline, and workplace behaviour.
The CWJ warned the inquiry would be “denied powers to compel the production of evidence from the police, and to protect vulnerable witnesses and whistleblowers” because it will not be statutory and called for it to consider the “wider issues of police-perpetrated abuse” rather than just the Couzens case alone.
The group said it wrote to Ms Patel last month “raising serious concerns” but has received no response, adding: “In light of the Secretary of State’s failure to respond to CWJ’s letter or to take steps addressing the concerns raised, we have now taken formal steps to commence the process of taking the Home Secretary to court.”
The letter before claim, issued on Monday, calls for the scope of the inquiry to be expanded and for it to be made statutory as well as confirming the panel leading it will include experts on violence against women and girls.
The group has also asked Ms Patel to take “immediate steps to address the problem of police treatment of women”.
CWJ director Harriet Wistrich said: “It is clear that police-perpetrated abuse of women has become a national scandal that demands an urgent and appropriate response.”
We call on the Home Secretary to confirm that this inquiry will be a statutory one, backed up by full legal powers and safeguards
Debaleena Dasgupta, Centre for Women’s Justice
The group’s solicitor Debaleena Dasgupta said: “We wrote to the Home Secretary less formally over three weeks ago requesting urgent action. We are disappointed that not only has she failed to take any action, but she has failed to even respond, despite being aware that our requests were echoed by many groups with experience and expertise on this issue.
“These are not the actions of a Home Secretary committed to speedily tackling police-perpetrated abuse of women. Sadly we have now been forced to take formal steps to commence judicial review proceedings. We call on the Home Secretary to confirm that this inquiry will be a statutory one, backed up by full legal powers and safeguards.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “It is abhorrent that a serving police officer was able to abuse his position of power, authority and trust to commit such a horrific crime.
“The public have a right to know how this happened, which is why the inquiry will establish this first, before looking across policing more broadly to ensure something like this can never happen again.
“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. Further detail will be set out in due course.”