Sarah Everard's family react to new police inquiry unearthing more of Wayne Couzens' missed red flags

a blonde woman named sarah everard smiling for the camera
Sarah Everard's family react to new police inquirySarah Everard

The family of Sarah Everard, a young woman who was kidnapped, assaulted and murdered while walking home in London in 2021, have reacted to a new inquiry that concluded her killer should not have been allowed to serve as a police officer.

It says that three separate forces – Kent Police, the Civil Nuclear Constabulary and the Metropolitan Police – missed glaring red flags in relation to Wayne Couzens, spanning almost 20 years. Multiple incidents of concerning behaviour and alleged offences were raised and the report says Couzens also stands accused of a serious sexual assault involving a child ahead of joining the police in 2002. He was also able to continue in post as an authorised firearms officer with the Civil Nuclear Constabulary following a report of indecent exposure in 2015.

"It has become clear that Couzens' terrible crimes were not committed in isolation but were the culmination of a trajectory of sexually-motivated behaviour and offending," it states.

The new inquiry also alleges that Couzens tried to show violent pornography to more than one police officer colleague and sent unwanted photos of his genitals to young women.

Prior to attacking Everard on 3 March 2021, Couzens was reported to police after having indecently exposed himself to a series of women at a fast food restaurant. The follow-up was mishandled and another opportunity to suspend or remove him from the force was missed.

flowers left in memory of sarah everard
Floral tributes left in memory of Sarah Everard Dan Kitwood - Getty Images

Speaking about the incident, one of the flashing victims said [as per the Evening Standard] last year, "This indecent exposure incident was reported on the Sunday [Sarah was kidnapped on the following Wednesday]. I had no one contact me or ask for a statement. It was only after Sarah's murder that I became involved. If he had been held accountable when we had reported the crime, we could have saved Sarah."

In response to this, the report writes that victims who attempted to raise the alarm about Couzens were dismissed and not taken seriously: "The police officers who responded to those victims were not adequately trained, equipped or motivated to investigate the allegations properly."

Couzens has since admitted three incidents of indecent exposure and was sentenced to 19 months for those charges, on top of a whole life sentence for Everard's rape and murder.

In a moving new statement, the Everard family – Sarah's parents Sue and Jeremy, and siblings Katie and James, said the investigation made them feel as though Sarah's life was "valued and her memory honoured".

Their statement added, "It is obvious that Wayne Couzens should never have been a police officer. Whilst holding a position of trust, in reality he was a serial sex offender.

"Warning signs were overlooked throughout his career and opportunities to confront him were missed. We believe that Sarah died because he was a police officer – she would never have got into a stranger's car."

Included in the report are 16 new recommendations in the hopes of preventing more 'bad apples' from being allowed to serve on police forces.

Dame Elish Angiolini, who led the inquiry, said she has gotten to know the Everard family throughout the course of the investigation and praised their resilience and dignity in such abhorrent circumstances.

"Without a significant overhaul, there is nothing to stop another Couzens operating in plain sight," she writes in the report. "Now is the time for change."

Angiolini admits whilst Couzens was not a product of his working environment(s), "those environments did nothing to discourage his misogynistic view of women". She adds: "I also want to pay tribute to all the Metropolitan Police Service officers and staff involved in Operation Temora, the investigation into Sarah's disappearance and, subsequently, her abduction, rape and murder. Much of this Report will criticise significant failures in policing duties and responsibilities.

"In contrast, as noted by Lord Justice Fulford in the remarks he made when sentencing Couzens, the investigation into Sarah's murder represents the best of the Metropolitan Police Service's ability to investigate crime while using the technological advances in evidence-gathering available to them."

Angiolini is now urging for leaders within all police forces to overhaul the culture within and for every officer to read her findings. No longer, she says, can toxicity be brushed off as 'banter' and all forces should commit to being anti-sexist, anti-racist and anti-misogynist. A better system for investigating officers accused of wrongdoing is also needed.

In response to the report, Andrea Simon, Director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), said: "Today we’re thinking of Sarah Everard, her loved ones and all who may be affected by the horrifying details being reported today.

"Understanding the systemic failings that enabled Couzens to do what he did will never detract from his responsibility for the horrific crimes he committed against Sarah Everard. But in showing us the missed opportunities that might have prevented a police officer from being free to commit rape and murder, it moves us closer to stopping other police officers from abusing their power and status to harm women and girls."

Simon added that the calls for non-contact sexual offences, such as indecent exposure, to be taken seriously have been ongoing for years, set against a backdrop in which most women don't report them, police officers fail to investigate or take them seriously, and it is trivialised across society. "Online abuse sees the same response. This cannot go on. Our justice agencies and wider society must take seriously these acts which are often part of patterns of offending that can ultimately include rape and murder."

You can read the Angiolini inquiry here but please note that it contains upsetting details that some may find distressing or triggering

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