Labour MP Harriet Harman has called for Cressida Dick to step down from her role as commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service following the sentencing of Sarah Everard’s murderer this afternoon.
In a letter to Dick today, Harman wrote that “women’s confidence in the police will have been shattered” following the “heartbreaking and horrifying” murder committed by a serving police officer.
“Women need to be confident that the police are there to make them safe, not to put them at risk. Women need to be able to trust the police, not to fear them. I have written to the Home Secretary to set out a number of actions which must be taken to rebuild the shattered confidence of women in the police service,” Harman wrote.
“I think it is not possible for you to lead these necessary actions in the Metropolitan Police. I am sure that you must recognise this, and I ask you to resign to enable these changes to be taken through and for women to be able to have justified confidence in the police.”
Everard was abducted and murdered by Wayne Couzens while walking home from a friend’s house in March. Couzens kidnapped her under the guise of an arrest. He was given a ‘whole-life’ prison term today, meaning he will die in prison.
Issuing a statement following the sentencing today, Sadiq Khan described the details revealed to the court on Wednesday as “harrowing”, adding: “Sarah Everard simply set out to walk home. Tragically, she never made it back.”
“The sentence that has been handed down is the right one – Wayne Couzens should spend the rest of his life in prison. But no sentence could ever make up for the terrible loss felt by Sarah’s loved ones,” the London mayor said.
Dick faced calls to resign over the Metropolitan Police Service’s violent handling of a vigil for Everard, during which an officer was photographed kneeling on a woman’s back as crowds gathered with flowers and tributes to the 33-year-old.
Keir Starmer criticised the police response at the time as “deeply disturbing”, while a government adviser on violence against women criticised the police service’s defence of its actions as being “from the handbook of abusers”.
Dick came under further pressure this year over the police investigation of the death of murdered sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman in north London when officer took “non-official and inappropriate photographs” of their bodies.
The commissioner has also been criticised over an expansion of stop-and-search at a time when the force’s history on race was under the spotlight amid Black Lives Matter protests. Starmer has said Dick should not quit when asked in recent months.
Asked what he would do about the epidemic of violence against women and girls this morning, Starmer called for a victims’ law and said that the UK “needed that years ago”, adding: “This is something I am very, very concerned about.”
Commenting on Dick and her suitability to continue as commissioner, the Labour leader said: “Cressida Dick is fit to continue, I’ve worked with Cressida over many years in relation to some very serious operations when I was director of public prosecutions. I was pleased that her contract was extended and I support her.”
In a separate letter to Priti Patel, Harman set out a seven-point plan to reform the police service in light of the murder. She told the Home Secretary that any serving police officers against whom there was an allegation of violence against women should be suspended.
She wrote that any officer who admitted or was found guilty of such an offence should be immediately dismissed, all recruits should be pre-screened for their attitudes towards women and called for checks when police transfer between forces.
She also called for training courses for officers asking them to examine their own attitudes to women, and that anyone who failed to report an officer for an allegations of violence against women should be dismissed from the police service.
Harman told Times Radio today: “You sense that [Everard] never would have got in that car if she hadn’t believed, and he wasn’t, a police officer. And women have to be able to trust the police, they shouldn’t be in fear of them, and women’s confidence in the police will have been shattered by this.”