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London Police, Under Fire on Everard Murder, Respond With Safety Tips

todayOctober 1, 2021 1

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LONDON — Hours after the murderer who used his status as a police officer to kidnap, rape and kill Sarah Everard was sentenced to life in prison, the London police advised women to challenge lone plainclothes officers if they felt unsafe when confronted by them, and to flag down a bus or ask a bystander for help.

The guidance — which was accompanied by a long list of other measures that the force had taken or plans to take in light of Ms. Everard’s murder, including stepped-up patrols and plans for a new strategy to address violence against women and girls — has been met with outrage and derision in Britain.

Many women criticized the guidance for putting the onus on them to protect themselves rather than addressing problematic behavior by officers.

“This advice in particular shows a fundamental lack of insight into the issue of women’s safety with the police,” the Women’s Equality Party wrote in a post on Twitter, saying that the force had failed to recognize “the huge power imbalance between a police officer and someone they are arresting.”

Critics say the guidance and the other planned measures have done little to calm the fears or reverse the erosion of public trust created by the news that a London police officer had abused his position to carry out the attack on Ms. Everard earlier this year. Her murder provoked nationwide outrage and led to calls to improve safety for women.

Troubling new details about the case emerged this week during the sentencing hearing for the officer, Wayne Couzens, who — under the guise of an arrest — handcuffed and abducted Ms. Everard before raping and murdering her and setting her body alight. The police fired Mr. Couzens after he pleaded guilty to the offense.

The revelations stirred long simmering outrage from women, prompting London’s Metropolitan Police on Thursday to issue guidance on how to protect themselves.

Many women said the guidance raised questions about what they see as a lack of meaningful action taken by the police and the government in dealing with broader issues of violence and misconduct in police ranks.

And they argue the approach once again puts the onus on women to protect themselves while neglecting to address institutional failings.

Jolyon Maugham, the executive director of the Good Law Project, a governance watchdog, said people had understandably lost trust in the police and the criminal justice system.

“You don’t restore trust with victim-blaming, and you don’t restore trust with preposterous suggestions that people run away if they’re not sure if it’s a bona fide police officer, or wave down a passing bus driver,” he said. “What the hell is a bus driver going to do?”

The Metropolitan Police acknowledged that the details of Mr. Couzens’ abuse of power had shaken the force, and that it was among a number of high profile cases that “bring into sharp focus our urgent duty to do more to protect women and girls. ” 

It also for the first time acknowledged that there may have been missteps in vetting Mr. Couzens before he joined the force, and said that an investigation was ongoing into an allegation of indecent exposure by the officer days before Ms. Everard was abducted.

A review into Mr. Couzens’ vetting process began after his arrest for the killing of Ms. Everard, the Metropolitan Police said. While he had passed the vetting process,the review also found that one of the checks into his background “may not have been undertaken correctly” and failed to turn up an allegation of indecent exposure in Kent in 2015.

Some opposition lawmakers have called for the resignation of the head of London’s police force, Cressida Dick, while others have pushed for a broader investigation into potential systemic failures.

Senior government officials responsible for policing have stood behind the police commissioner.

Kit Malthouse, the government’s crime and policing minister, acknowledged that the case “struck a devastating blow to the confidence” in the police and had raised questions about how to prevent such attacks from happening in the future. But he said he believed Ms. Dick should continue in her position.

“The question in our mind is what went wrong?” he said during an interview with Sky News on Friday, and an inquiry would be needed to assess “how this monster slipped through the net to become a police officer” and what we can learn from that to make the police force a “better organization that has the unquestioning trust of the British people.”

Yvette Cooper, a Labour lawmaker, said the response from the Metropolitan Police and the government to the murder of Ms. Everard by a serving police officer was “totally inadequate.”

“We need answers,” she said in a statement posted on Twitter. “How was this dangerous man a police officer for so long? What needs to change in policing?”

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