Angiolini Inquiry Report - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 7:31 pm ar 5 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Baroness Thornton Baroness Thornton Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport) 7:31, 5 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, this damning report is about women’s safety. It is also about trust and confidence in policing, and whether we have the standards in place to maintain confidence in individual officers. The vast majority of police officers work immensely hard, and with integrity, to keep our communities safe. This is undermined when standards fail.

We thank Lady Elish for her inquiry and its comprehensive first report. The report exposes a catalogue of appalling failures in police misconduct processes. What is truly frightening is the line,

“there is nothing to stop another Couzens operating in plain sight”.

We can believe that that might be the case because of the story of PC Cliff Mitchell, who was vetted months after Sarah Everard was killed. He had an allegation of rape in 2017 and a non-molestation order against him, but that did not stop the Met recruiting him. At about the same time that the Met was telling us that vetting had been tightened up, it was simultaneously congratulating PC Mitchell on passing his police entrance and handing him a warrant card, which he used to get the trust of women he went on to abuse and rape.

This Government have been repeatedly warned about failures around vetting and misconduct. Independent inspectorate reports in 2012, 2019, 2022 and 2023 all highlighted serious failures in vetting processes, which is why, two years ago, we on these Benches called for mandatory national vetting standards. Why has this not yet happened?

As for the misconduct charges the Statement referred to, most of them are not even in place yet, three years after Sarah Everard was murdered. Will the Minister commit today to a new mandatory vetting framework, underpinned by legislation, that all forces must abide by, under which any evidence about past domestic abuse or sexual offending will be pursued—and not simply take convictions into account? At a minimum, he should surely accept recommendation 6:

“Review of indecent exposure allegations and other sexual offences recorded against serving police officers”.

As well as talking extensively about vetting, the recommendations also focus on indecent exposure. Indecent exposure is still treated as a joke by police—something “she” should not be bothered about because “he” is pathetic and harmless. It is seen as old men—past it and pathetic—trying to get attention. Many women, if not most, have experienced this at some point in their lives. But Couzens was in his 40s and did this five or so times, including one scary incident when he masturbated on a banking on a country lane as a lone woman cyclist cycled past. There was an incident just before Sarah Everard’s kidnap, rape and murder when he drove undressed through a McDonald’s. People got the name, model and licence number of his car and the vehicle was traced to him, but nothing followed after that.

Clearly, the sexual impulse that drives indecent exposure is to force attention to the man’s sexuality on a woman who does not want it. We have to ask the question: how far is that from the motive that drives rape? It is clearly a terrifying experience for a woman—often isolated and confronted with a man bigger and stronger than she is—who will be afraid of what might happen next. Getting away with it encourages a predator to feel that they can act more boldly next time, increasing the threat to women.

The recommendations in this report are absolutely clear, and they have a timetable. Will the Home Office insist that all police forces have a specialist policy on investigating all sexual offences, including so-called “non-contact” offences such as indecent exposure, by September this year? Will the Minister commit to guidance and training on indecent exposure being in place by December this year? Will he ensure that the College of Policing, in collaboration with the National Police Chiefs’ Council, will improve guidance and training on indecent exposure? Will there be an immediate review, called for in recommendation 3, which concerns treatment of masturbatory indecent exposure within the criminal justice system? The review needs to focus on recognising the seriousness of the offence, identifying it as an indicator of disinhibition by perpetrators, and understanding and addressing the wider issue of sexual precursor conduct, so as to prevent victimisation, to improve the response to victims when it occurs, and to bring more offenders to justice.

Recommendation 4 calls for research into masturbatory indecent exposure with immediate effect. Does the Minister have a schedule that he can tell us about today? Recommendation 5 is a public information campaign on indecent exposure by March 2025, which the Home Office should launch, together with the National Police Chiefs’ Council, to raise awareness about the illegality, criminality and legal consequences of any type of indecent exposure.

When it comes to women’s safety, the reality is that the number of prosecutions for domestic abuse has halved, rape prosecutions are still taking years, and early action and intervention still do not happen. As my honourable friend Yvette Cooper said on Thursday:

“There is a shocking drift on women’s safety and in what the Home Secretary has said today … How long must we go on saying the same things? The first women’s safety march was on the streets of Leeds nearly 50 years ago, and we are saying the same things about our daughters’ safety today”.—[Official Report, Commons, 29/2/24; col. 454.]

We really cannot stand for any more of this.