Feminist group Sisters Uncut protest outside the central criminal court as the sentencing hearing for Wayne Couzens takes place at Old Bailey on 29 September 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)
Artillery Row

Sarah Everard: The police must be held to account

By “othering” officers like Wayne Couzens, the Met absolves itself of all culpability and responsibility

On Thursday 30 September, more than six months after the harrowing murder of Sarah Everard, Police Constable Wayne Couzens was sentenced to life in prison, with the tariff being set at a “whole-life order”. This tariff is typically reserved for the most distressing and disturbing of murders. What this means is, bar any exceptional circumstances, Couzens will serve the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Much has been said about the sheer horror inflicted by Couzens on Sarah Everard; out of respect to her and her family, the details need not be recounted here. But one thing that must not ever be forgotten or brushed under the rug is the culpability of the institutions that not only allowed this to happen, but actively facilitated Couzens’s violent, abhorrent, and revolting actions.

On 29 September, a senior investigator on Sarah Everard’s case, former DCI Simon Harding, gave an interview to Sky News in which he said police officers “do not view” Couzens as a police officer and he “should never have been near a uniform”. But Sarah Everard did not have the luxury of “not viewing” Couzens as a police officer when he used his warrant card to stage a false arrest. Sarah Everard did not have the luxury of believing that Couzens “should never have been near a uniform” when he used his police handcuffs to restrain her in the back of his car. 

The fact of the matter is, Couzens was a police officer when he murdered Sarah Everard, having worked for the Metropolitan Police since 2018.

This shirking of responsibility is effectively #NotAllMen on steroids

Couzens — a man who was nicknamed “The Rapist” by colleagues and had already had several complaints against him for “flashing” — was not a “bad’un” as Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick grotesquely implied in a statement given on the same day he pleaded guilty to rape and murder. He was simply one of potentially hundreds of violent misogynist men within the police force who have used their power and status as serving police officers to commit heinous offences, including murder, sexual misconduct, possession of child sexual abuse images, voyeurism, and spending decades using false identities to spy on and sexually abuse women.

The comments by Harding and Dame Cressida are blithely myopic, not to mention staggeringly ill-judged, of the issue that has plagued the very institution that is supposed to protect women and girls from violent predatory men. The closed-ranks nature of the Met means that there has been a constant “othering” of this behaviour from senior officers, who are quick to distance themselves from the plague of virulent misogyny that courses through the veins of the institution they work for. This cannot go on any longer.

By “othering” officers like Couzens, Harding and Dame Cressida absolve themselves of all culpability and responsibility. “Police officers don’t behave like that, ergo they’re not police officers”. But if police officers don’t behave like that, then why was it never followed up on when Couzens had flashed several women in the days leading up to Sarah Everard’s murder? Why was it never followed up on when a man nicknamed “The Rapist” was able to continue serving as an officer? Turning a blind eye allowed Couzens to continue on to his deplorable finale.

At Couzens’s trial, Dame Cressida stated: “All of us in the Met are sickened, angered and devastated by this man’s crimes — they are dreadful. Everyone in policing feels betrayed.” Well, everyone in policing might feel betrayed. But what about the millions of women who now can’t rely on the institution that is supposed to protect them? It is beyond the pale.

Sarah Everard deserves better than to have her murderer reduced to bogeyman status

This shirking of responsibility is effectively #NotAllMen on steroids. Too often is the first response of senior officers, but men more widely, to say “we are not like that”. Too often are these men portrayed as “monsters” who do “inhumane” things, but at what point do we bring this back into the realm of reality? These men might do monstrous things, but they are still men. 

They are somebody’s brother; somebody’s father; somebody’s son. The common thread that runs through such heart-wrenching events is that they are committed by men, against women. As men, we must hold ourselves, and other men, responsible for the actions of our sex class. We cannot combat male violence against women if at every turn we are saying “it is not men who commit these acts, but monsters”.

Similarly, senior officers such as DCI Harding and Dame Cressida must hold the police as an institution responsible and accountable for the behaviour it has facilitated. If you are shunting murderous rapists off into the ether and stripping them of all the power, status, and identity that has been handed to them to to act in the way they have with impunity, you will never be able to root them out.

The memories of Sarah Everard, Sabina Nessa, and the 80 women in the UK who have been killed by men in the time between these two deaths, deserve better than to have their murderers reduced to bogeyman status.

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