Sarah Everard case: people stopped by lone officer could ‘wave down a bus’, says Met

Minister speaks of ‘devastating blow’ as Scotland Yard suggests actions to take if feeling unsafe

Police will have to work hard to rebuild public confidence after the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving officer, a minister has said, as Scotland Yard said people stopped by a lone plainclothes officer should challenge their legitimacy and could try “waving a bus down” to escape a person they believe is pretending to be police.

Wayne Couzens, who joined the Metropolitan police in 2018, was handed a rare whole-life sentence on Thursday for the kidnap, rape and murder of 33-year-old Everard as she walked home in south London in March.

On Friday, the policing minister, Kit Malthouse, told Sky News: “[The police] recognise that this has struck a devastating blow to the confidence that people have in police officers, but also in the Met police in particular. For those thousands and thousands of police officers out there who will have to work harder – much harder – to win public trust, it is a very, very difficult time.”

The Met announced on Thursday night that it would no longer deploy plainclothes officers on their own, after the sentencing hearing was told that Couzens used lockdown rules to falsely arrest Everard during the abduction.

The force encouraged members of the public to challenge lone plainclothes police officers if they are ever approached, asking where the officer’s colleagues are, where they have come from, why they are there and exactly why they are stopping or talking to them.

It also suggests verifying the police officer’s identity by asking to hear their radio operator or asking to speak to the radio operator themselves.

If a person still does not feel safe, the force said they should consider “shouting out to a passerby, running into a house, knocking on a door, waving a bus down or, if you are in the position to do so, calling 999.”

The Met said: “All officers will, of course, know about this case and will be expecting in an interaction like that – rare as it may be – that members of the public may be understandably concerned and more distrusting than they previously would have been, and should and will expect to be asked more questions.”

However the Met and government ministers were accused of having a tone-deaf response for suggesting women should flag down a bus.

Patsy Stevenson, who was arrested at a vigil for Everard in the days after her murder, said the advice was “almost laughable if it wasn’t so disgusting”.

She told the PA Media news agency: “I feel like they are just clutching at straws, because the advice isn’t relevant. It’s like a distraction because, number one, in that situation you can’t just stop and hail down a bus or a taxi or something.

“Can you imagine the distrust that people have right now where they have to protect themselves from the police in that manner? That is shocking.”

The Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy tweeted: “We want to know what the Met are doing to address the deeply rooted problems with violence against women within the force. This completely derisory advice shows they’re still not taking it seriously. And they wonder why trust is at an all-time low?”

Ruth Davidson, the former leader of the Scottish Conservatives, tweeted: “This is so grim. If someone believe they are in ‘real and imminent danger’ - **from a police officer** they’ve to flag down a bus or start chapping doors. Horrendous.”

Pressure is mounting on the Met police commissioner, Cressida Dick, to resign over the case, which has sparked a national outcry over the safety of women on Britain’s streets.

The Conservative MP Caroline Nokes, Labour’s Harriet Harman and the Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse are among those calling for Dick to step down.

Malthouse backed the commissioner on Friday, adding that she had one of the “most difficult jobs in the country”.

“What I want in a policing leader is when awful calamities like this happen … I want a police leader who is transparent, willing to learn, willing to change and has a conviction and a commitment not to be defensive about the failings of the organisation, and that’s what we’re seeing in Cressida Dick,” he said.

“She is a dedicated and talented and committed police officer who is driving the Metropolitan police to ever greater standards of care and improvement and fighting crime.”

Jess Phillips, the shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding, said trust in police was “not going to be built back overnight”.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It is going to be built up if we see the government and police forces starting to actually take violence against women and girls, and the complaints that women make day in, day out, seriously.”

She said she wanted to see violence against women and girls prioritised in every police force across the UK and in the Whitehall offices of the Home Office, adding that it should be given the same resources as other crime types such as terrorism and county lines gangs.

“I want finally to not have to keep asking that this should be a priority,” she said. “The seriousness of this crime should never be underestimated.”


Jamie Grierson

The GuardianTramp

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