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 Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 7:31, 5 Mawrth 2024

I thank both noble Baronesses for their comments. The first thing to say, which I said earlier, is that my thoughts are with the family and friends of Sarah Everard.

The second thing, highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and which it was remiss of me to neglect to say earlier, is that we owe it to all the decent police officers out there—there are very many, who I would like to thank—to get this right. Finally, I place on record my thanks to Lady Elish, who has delivered a very efficient, speedy report. This is obviously only part 1. I note that part 2 is considering cultural issues, which include misogyny and predatory behaviour. There will be much more to say on that subject, which is not to say that we should not act speedily and efficiently now—and we are. I will explain how.

The vetting process has come in for a considerable amount of criticism, with some justification. The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, asked why the Government are not legislating to put vetting standards on a statutory footing. The report did not specifically recommend that the Government legislate on vetting standards. As I have just said, part 2 will look in depth at vetting and recruitment, among other cultural issues in policing. We will consider any findings from part 2 in due course. However, we expect policing to examine the Angiolini findings from part 1 in detail, and for them to be addressed.

To ensure that forces are adhering to the existing standards, as set out by the College of Policing, the college will establish a process of national accreditation, setting out the high standards that policing must meet, with the aim of increasing confidence in policing. We are introducing regulations on vetting, which will make it easier for forces to remove those who cannot hold the minimum level of clearance.

As Lady Elish says in her report, it is not possible to

“make any conclusive finding that earlier interventions would have prevented the horrific crimes” that the report responded to. However, I do not think that Couzens would have been able to remain a police officer if he was serving today—I think it is important to state that for the record. Vetting has been significantly tightened, and tolerances are lower. Forces now do a full re-vet on transfer. Lady Elish highlighted that that is clear in the new vetting code. There is also a data wash process. We are funding policing to develop automated screening, so that records added to the police national database, such as the indecent allegations made against Couzens in 2015, will be quickly picked up by the employing force.

In January 2023, the then Home Secretary asked HMICFRS to carry out a rapid review in response to the November 2022 inspectorate report into vetting. That also looked at what forces are doing to identify and deal with misogynistic behaviour. The inspectorate identified good process in certain areas, and in January this year, the NPCC provided evidence on the implementation of relevant recommendations across forces to the inspectorate. We have also asked the College of Policing to strengthen the statutory code of practice, which I have mentioned. That code was published in July 2023. I referred earlier to the authorised professional practice guidance which is available for public consultation. Finally, in January 2024, the Home Office agreed to provide an additional £500,000 to policing to develop a continuous integrity screening system for the workforce, building on the data wash exercise.

Recommendation 6 is for the NPCC, and I hope it will implement it as quickly as possible—indeed, that goes for all of the recommendations. We discussed some of them earlier, and they all make perfect sense to me. I hope they make perfect sense to others, as well.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, asked about indecent exposure and whether the police are taking such offences seriously enough. In accordance with the strategic policing requirement, we expect that all sexual offending, including for cases where there is no contact, is taken seriously, because we want victims to have the confidence to report these offences. We need them to know that they will get the support that they need, and that everything will be done to bring the offenders to justice.

As noble Lords will be aware, we have added violence against women and girls to the revised strategic policing requirement, which means that crimes that disproportionately impact women and girls, such as indecent exposure, are set out as a national threat for forces to respond to, alongside other threats such as terrorism, serious and organised crime, and child sexual abuse. The strategic policing requirement is set by the Home Secretary and provides clear direction to policing. It highlights where police forces need to work together, using their local and regional capabilities. This requirement covers all forms of violence against women and girls. We continue to work closely with the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s violence against women and girls task force to drive improvements in the policing response. It will soon publish an updated national framework on how policing needs to prepare, prevent, pursue and protect to robustly improve policing’s response to these crimes.

The report found that what might be considered “lower-level sexual offending”, such as Couzens sending unwarranted pictures of himself, could lead to more serious sexual assault. Obviously, as I have said, we regard that any kind of sexually motivated crime is abhorrent and should be treated very seriously. Women need to be confident in calling the police and reporting crimes, and to trust that they will be taken seriously when they do. As I have said, in tandem with policing partners, we will be considering Lady Elish’s recommendations very carefully and will respond fully after a review of all of the content. I am afraid that I cannot give a timetable as to recommendation 4, but, as I said earlier today, we will be responding in full very soon.

In terms of women joining the police, I looked up the statistics after the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, asked me about it earlier, and they are not as bad as I might have inferred. The 20,000 officer uplift programme provided a once in a generation opportunity to support forces. The police force is now more diverse than ever, with 53,080 women police officers and 12,086 ethnic minority police officers; this was as of 31 March 2023, so those numbers will have changed. Females accounted for 35.5% of officers—the highest number and proportion in post since comparable records began. Between April 2020 and March 2023, 43.2% of new police officer recruits in England and Wales were female—a notable increase on levels in previous years. I will not go into more detail, but it is an encouraging picture and a good start when it comes to the cultural change that we have been talking about at some length.

The noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, also asked a good question which I was unable to answer about how officers and police staff should be encouraged to call out wrongdoing when they see it. I will go into a bit more detail about this, though I suspect it is not as much as the noble Baroness would like. Police officers have a statutory duty to report wrongdoing by their colleagues when they see it, and not doing so constitutes a breach of their standards of professional behaviour. The noble Baroness referred to the Criminal Justice Bill; a duty of candour is included in that, which will help this progress significantly.

There are a number of other routes, both internal and external, through which police officers and staff can raise concerns. External routes include staff associations, trade unions, the office of the relevant PCC if the matter concerns the chief constable, Crimestoppers and the Independent Office for Police Conduct. A police officer can report wrongdoing directly to the professional standards department within their force. Most police forces in England and Wales have reporting phone lines, many with protections for anonymity. A reporting line run by the IOPC enables officers and staff to report concerns that a criminal offence has been committed or where there is evidence of conduct that would justify disciplinary proceedings. I appreciate that this does not fully answer the question about others who might report domestic abuse, but I will take those comments back and find out what can be done about it.

I appreciate that I am running over time. With the indulgence of the House, I will quickly finish by talking about recommendation 5, which is what the Government have done or should be doing to try to change societal attitudes towards women and girls. It is important to highlight the Government’s Enough programme, which is designed to deliver a generational shift in the attitudes and behaviours underpinning abuse. The campaign has a continued focus on encouraging bystanders to challenge safely any abuse they may witness and to trigger reflection among perpetrators and their peers. Evaluation of Enough has shown that it is successfully reaching target audiences, driving behavioural change and encouraging bystanders to intervene when they see abuse. This has been helped by the creation of a STOP mnemonic which is proving highly effective.

I will finish there for now, though I am sure there is more to be said on this subject. Recommendation 5 makes considerable sense. I will certainly be taking the suggestion from the noble Baroness back to the Home Office.