Wayne Couzens, a 48-year-old firearms-trained parliamentary and diplomatic protection officer with the Metropolitan Police, has pleaded guilty to the murder of Sarah Everard. He abducted Sarah while she was walking home, raped and strangled her. Days before Sarah’s murder, Couzens purchased a roll of self-adhesive film and hired a car.
This sickening crime has impacted women across the UK and tarnished the reputation of the Met Police. The idea that the police are here to protect and serve us has been undoubtedly called into question, particularly after the heavy-handed policing tactics used at Sarah’s vigil on 13 March at Clapham Common.
Images of women who had come together to honour Sarah’s memory being pinned to the ground by officers sparked widespread anger on social media and the tactics the police used were dubbed “from the handbook of abusive men”.
Unfortunately, the argument that Couzens is just “one bad apple” – in an otherwise trustworthy and respectful police force – doesn’t hold much weight. Two Met officers, PC Deniz Jaffer and PC Jamie Lewis, took photographs of sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman as they lay dead in a park in north west London last June. They allegedly shared the pictures on WhatsApp, showing utter disrespect for the two murdered women.
Their mother, Mina Smallman, is considering suing the Met Police, due to the “lack of urgency” around finding the two women when they were reported missing. Smallman believes that this was because of their race.
Beyond that particular case, people of colour are disproportionally targeted by stop and search efforts, and significantly more likely to have force used against them. Ninety-seven per cent of officers accused of racism face no consequences.
People of colour have been saying for years that the British police don’t have our best interests at heart. It took the murder of a white woman to make some of us sit up and take notice.
Trust in our public institutions, such as the police, the courts and the government, is currently low. Sixty per cent of people think that the government has handled the pandemic “badly”, and it’s pretty obvious why.
From late lockdowns, the scandal of sending infected and vulnerable people back into care homes, PPE shortages, the unmitigated disaster of Eat Out To Help Out, the expensive failure of Test and Trace, and the handing out of lucrative contracts to associates, it’s hardly surprising that many people – myself included – simply don’t have a single shred of trust in the people who run the country.
Couple that with a Met Police commissioner who dismissed those who were shocked and angry at the actions of officers at Sarah Everard’s vigil as “armchair critics”, and you get the nasty feeling that people in power and the institutions they represent are deeply mired in deceit, incompetence and bigotry.
The fact that a serving, firearms-trained Met officer chose to brutally murder a woman who was simply walking home will shatter public confidence further. How could someone like Couzens – a violent misogynist – be allowed to carry a gun as part of his job? Why was the vetting process so inadequate that he was permitted to serve in a plum role?
If our institutions, like the police and the government, want our respect, they should uphold standards that warrant it. If the Met is truly committed to ensuring that tragedies like Sarah Everard’s murder and the degrading treatment of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman's bodies, don’t happen again, it should tackle the problems that clearly exist within its own ranks.
When I think of Sarah, I can’t help but imagine her fear and pain in those final moments. It’s not about one bad apple. Sadly, rottenness exists within our public institutions, and it must be excised urgently.