Yesterday, Sarah Everard’s killer – serving police officer Wayne Couzens – was sentenced to a whole life order. In kidnapping her, Couzens, who was a firearms officer at the time, showed Everard his warrant card and placed her in handcuffs, having ‘arrested’ her under Covid-19 powers. The 48-year-old then drove Everard 80 miles, before raping and murdering her.
The whole life order handed to Couzens, meaning he’ll never be eligible to leave prison, reflects Lord Justice Fulford’s assessment that “the misuse of a police officer’s role such as occurred in this case […] is of equal seriousness as a murder for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause.”
Meanwhile, former detective Simon Harding, who investigated the Everard case, said that “police officers do not view Wayne Couzens as a police officer. They view him as a murderer who happened to be a police officer, rather than the other way around: a police officer who is a murderer […] He doesn’t hold the same values as a police officer, he doesn’t have the same personality as we do. He’s a very sick, dangerous individual who should never have been near a uniform.”
“It’s something that will stay with me for the rest of my life.”
But, this morning, it has emerged that five of Couzens’ colleagues are facing criminal investigation after sharing racist, misogynistic and homophobic material with him over WhatsApp. This follows earlier reports that Couzens had been nicknamed “the rapist” by former colleagues for making women feel uncomfortable. Numerous incidents of indecent exposure, including two at a McDonald’s, which should have been linked to his vehicle just 72 hours before the kidnap, rape and murder of Everard weren’t properly investigated. Couzens’ criminality was facilitated by the incompetence and blasé attitude to misogyny embedded within the institution that he worked for.
Wayne Couzens was nicknamed ‘The Rapist’, shared racist and misogynistic messages with colleagues, and committed indecent in a car registered to him 72 hours before murdering someone.
But it’s Sarah Everard who should’ve waved down a bus.
After having been ignored and dismissed by police officers when reporting her daughters missing, the mother of Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry discovered that two officers had posed for a selfie with their murdered bodies and distributed the image on WhatsApp. Yesterday, a former Met chief superintendent admitted on Radio 4 that female police officers are discouraged from reporting suspicious or abusive behaviour as their colleagues will close ranks, and deliberately leave them unassisted in violent situations. 52% of London police officers found guilty of sexual misconduct between 2016 and 2020 kept their jobs; meanwhile, one woman a week reports being a victim of domestic violence perpetrated by a police officer or a member of staff within the institution.
The culture is rotten to the core, built to facilitate, rather than mitigate, abuses of the unique power that is handed to police officers. The sentence handed down to Wayne Couzens alone is not justice. Though his crimes were particularly extreme, violence against women and a tolerance of misogyny is writ through the DNA of the country’s police forces. Nothing less than a root and branch overhaul can be seen as a meaningful response.