Angiolini Inquiry Report - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 7:30 pm ar 5 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Thursday 29 February.

“Three years ago, Sarah Everard was abducted, raped and murdered by an off-duty serving police officer. It was a gut-wrenching betrayal, an abuse of power of the most egregious kind, and the country was shaken to its core. My predecessor, my right honourable friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel), established an inquiry to examine the many failings arising from the Sarah Everard case, chaired by Lady Elish Angiolini KC. Part 1 focused on examining Wayne Couzens’s career and previous behaviour, and a report dealing with its findings has been published today.

First and foremost, we should take time to think about Sarah Everard’s family and loved ones at what must be an incredibly difficult time. I pay tribute to them all for the immense dignity that they have shown in the face of such an unbearable loss in such terrible circumstances.

Tragically, the report makes it clear that Couzens was completely unsuitable to serve as a police officer, and, worse still, that there were numerous occasions when that should, and could, have been recognised. Lady Elish identified significant and repeated problems in recruitment and vetting throughout Couzens’s career, including the overlooking of his chaotic financial situation. This meant that he was able to serve in a range of privileged roles, for instance as a firearms officer. It is appalling that reports of indecent exposure by Couzens were not taken seriously enough by the police, and that officers were not adequately trained, equipped or motivated to investigate the allegations properly. Had fuller inquiries been made in 2015 and 2020, Couzens could and probably would have been removed from policing. Evidence of his preference for extreme and violent pornography, and of his alleged sexual offending, dates back nearly 20 years prior to Sarah Everard’s murder. The inquiry found that Couzens was adept at hiding his grossly offensive behaviour from most of his colleagues, but that he shared his vile and misogynistic views on a WhatsApp group. The other members of that group are no longer serving officers, after a range of disciplinary processes. The fact that many of his alleged victims felt unable to report their experiences at the time speaks to the issue of confidence in policing among women.

I wish to place on the record my thanks to Lady Elish and her team for this report. It is a deeply distressing but incredibly important piece of work, and they have approached it with thoroughness, professionalism and sensitivity. We all owe thanks to those who came forward and gave brave testimony to the inquiry. Everyone who Couzens hurt is in my thoughts today.

The report makes 16 recommendations, including improving the police response to indecent exposure, reforming police recruitment and vetting practices, and addressing cultures in policing. The Government will now carefully consider the report and respond formally in due course, and I assure the House that our response will be prompt. We are taking action to address public confidence in the police, and there has already been progress in a number of areas that have been highlighted by the inquiry. Anyone who is not fit to wear the uniform, for whatever reason, must be removed from policing, and every effort must be made to ensure that similar people never join. That is why we are providing funding to the National Police Chiefs’ Council to develop an automated system for flagging intelligence about officers much more quickly.

We are changing the rules to make it easier for forces to remove those who cannot hold the minimum level of clearance. Police chiefs are getting back the responsibility for chairing misconduct hearings, so that they can better uphold standards in the forces that they lead, and there will be a presumption of dismissal for any officer found to have committed gross misconduct. I can announce today that there will also be automatic suspensions of police officers charged with certain criminal offences, but the work must continue. Part 2 of the Angiolini inquiry is considering systemic issues in policing, such as vetting, recruitment and the culture, as well as the safety of women in public spaces. I will of course read the findings closely and with care.

Sarah Everard’s murder started a national conversation about violence against women and girls, and my right honourable friend the Member for Witham reopened a call for evidence that went on to receive 180,000 responses from members of the public, with many sharing their harrowing personal experiences. That evidence demonstrated the terrible truth: women and girls routinely feel unsafe. This is unacceptable and should anger us all, and the whole of society needs to treat change in this area as an urgent priority.

Tackling violence against women and girls has been a priority for me for a long time. It is now a priority set out in the strategic policing requirement, meaning that VAWG is rightly considered to be as serious a focus as tackling terrorism. Our tackling violence against women and girls strategy and tackling domestic abuse plan are backed up by significant investment. We are changing the law so that rapists will serve their full sentence behind bars, with no option of release at the two-thirds point, and anyone who commits a murder with a sexual or sadistic element will spend the rest of their days in prison.

Our safer streets fund and safety of women at night fund support a range of projects across England and Wales. The online StreetSafe tool enables the public to anonymously report areas where they feel unsafe and why. There is a new national operating model for the investigation of rape and serious sexual offences, which means that the police and prosecutors will work together more closely, building stronger cases that focus on the behaviour of the suspect, and that place victims at the heart of everything. We have also launched a nationwide behaviour change campaign called ‘Enough’ to bring about an enduring shift in the attitudes and behaviours that underpin the abuse of women and girls.

Most police officers use their powers to serve the public bravely and well, but the impact can be devastating when they fall short. Society cannot function properly when trust in the police is eroded. I am unambiguous that police forces must keep improving and must command the confidence of the people they serve. It is imperative that police leadership, of whatever rank, plays its part in this endeavour.

Once again, I express my heartfelt sympathy to Sarah Everard’s family and friends. I cannot begin to imagine the extent of their pain. Together, we must do everything possible to stop such agony being visited on others, to rebuild public trust, and to make sure that our streets and public places, as well as the private realm, are safe for women and girls. I commend this Statement to the House”.