Pressure is mounting on Home Secretary Priti Patel to launch a statutory inquiry, rather than a non-statutory one, into the failings that led to Wayne Couzens kidnapping, raping and murdering Sarah Everard while serving as a police officer.
Patel announced at the Conservative Party conference on Monday that there would be an inquiry into the “systematic failures” in the case, looking at both the behaviour of Couzens and issues in the police, such as vetting processes.
But Labour’s Nick Thomas-Symonds pointed out in response that the Home Secretary had “half-heartedly” committed to an inquiry after Boris Johnson refused to support one, but “not put it on a robust, statutory footing”.
Labour peer Shami Chakrabarti, ex-director of Liberty and former Shadow Attorney General, has tabled two crucial amendments to the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill that is currently with the House of Lords.
One of Chakrabarti’s changes to the Home Office-sponsored legislation would force Patel to order a full statutory inquiry to be held under the Inquiries Act 2005 within one month of the bill coming into force.
The inquiry would look into “the matters arising from the abduction, rape and murder of Sarah Everard to identify the lessons to be learned for the professional culture, funding, vetting and organisation of policing, the prevention of violence against women and the investigation and prosecution of misogynistic crimes”.
There are urgent concerns over the Couzens inquiry being non-statutory, in light of the probe into the unsolved 1987 murder of Daniel Morgan. This review, set up in 2013, finally published its report in June this year, having originally meant to complete work within a year.
Without statutory powers, the Daniel Morgan panel was not able to compel witnesses to testify, nor compel the Metropolitan Police to disclose documents in a timely manner. Some individuals declined to be interviewed for reasons including fear of reprisal.
A statement by the independent panel noted: “At times our contact with the Metropolitan Police resembled police contact with litigants rather than with a body established by the Home Secretary to enquire into a case.”
The review said its work cost around £16m and spending increased specifically “as a consequence of the excessive length of time taken by the Metropolitan Police to provide us with access to necessary documentation”.
It had also been ready to publish its report in May, but the Home Secretary delayed its release for a month. Independent control over the content of the report and the timing of its publication is another reason that some want the Couzens inquiry to be statutory.
The Labour Party frontbench will look at all amendments put forward for the policing bill and agrees with Baroness Chakrabarti that the urgency of this issue demands action, LabourList understands.
Thomas-Symonds has been vocal about the need for a statutory inquiry into the Couzens case. Party sources say Labour is looking at how to put pressure on the government and how to ensure legislatively that there is a statutory inquiry.
The other amendment proposed by Chakrabarti would change the law so that a single police officer is not able to require someone under arrest to enter a car or police station unless at least one other constable is present.
When Wayne Couzens kidnapped Sarah Everard while off-duty as a serving police officer on March 3rd in south London, he showed his warrant card and handcuffed her before putting her in his hire car and driving away.
Below is the text of the two amendments to the policing bill put forward by Chakrabarti.
After Clause 49
Insert the following new Clause —
“Arrest without warrants: safeguarding
In section 24 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (arrest without warrants: constables), after subsection (4) insert—
“(4A) A constable exercising the power conferred by subsection (1), (2) or (3) may not require or ask the person under arrest to enter a vehicle or premises other than a police station unless at least one other constable is present in the vehicle or when entering the premises, as applicable.””
After Clause 170
Insert the following new Clause —
“Duty to establish inquiry into lessons to be learned from the death of Sarah Everard
(1) The Secretary of State must within one month of the coming into force of any provision of this Act, cause an inquiry to be held under the Inquiries Act 2005 into the matters arising from the abduction, rape and murder of Sarah Everard to identify the lessons to be learned for the professional culture, funding, vetting and organisation of policing, the prevention of violence against women and the investigation and prosecution of misogynistic crimes.
(2) The inquiry must be undertaken by a chair who is to be a senior woman judge or retired judge, and a panel of other members of relevant experience appointed as set out under section 4 of the Inquiries Act 2005.”