Wayne Couzens has been found guilty of the murder of Sarah Everard. The details of the attack are distressing, but it is, I think, necessary to discuss some of them in order to show what the case reveals about the broader failings of the British state and police force.
Couzens tricked Everard into entering his car using his police warrant card and arresting her using the pretext of coronavirus restrictions. The Independent Office for Police Conduct has launched a probe into allegations that the Metropolitan Police failed to adequately investigate accusations of indecent exposure brought against Couzens. So far, 12 notices of misconduct or gross misconduct have been served on police officers relating to the Couzens case.
Everard’s murder is atypical of the usual circumstances involved in the killing of women by men (most women who are murdered are killed by men they know, not by strangers). But often when violence against women and girls turns deadly, the perpetrator already has a history of sexual offences in a high number of cases, or a pattern of online activity, whether that’s reading extremist material or consuming violent pornography.
We know this, yet the British government still doesn’t have a serious strategy for tackling violence against women and girls. Many more women will experience domestic abuse and in some years many more women will be killed as a result of male violence than men will be killed by knife crime: yet the joined-up strategies to stamp out knife crime at a Whitehall and police level are far in advance of strategies to tackle violence against women and girls.
Then there are the specific failures within the police force in general and the Metropolitan Police in particular. When Couzens was charged, the Met Commissioner Cressida Dick said that “all of us in the Met are sickened, angered and devastated by this man’s crimes”.
I’m sure that’s true. Social workers were sickened, angered and devastated by the failures that led to the murder of eight-year-old Victoria Climbié at the hands of her aunt and aunt’s boyfriend in 2000. Doctors were sickened, angered and devastated by the failures that allowed Harold Shipman to murder as many as 250 people. But crucially, those failures led to serious reforms to child protection and to palliative care provision in the UK.
The murder of Sarah Everard is the story of two long-running problems in British politics: the failure to take violence against women and girls seriously, and the failure by senior leaders in too many of the UK’s police forces to acknowledge mistakes and learn from them, rather than viewing them as unfortunate and unavoidable accidents.