She was just walking home. She wore brightly coloured clothes, called her boyfriend while walking and took the main roads. Sarah Everard was a “wholly blameless victim”, the judge said, as if there are victims of kidnapping, rape and murder who are not blameless. One thing is clear: there is nothing women can do as individuals to avoid being victims of male violence. Sarah did all the ‘right things’. Domestic violence means even locking ourselves into our homes and never going out wouldn’t do the trick. But the Metropolitan Police would still rather talk about what we could do differently than what they could do differently.
“Our response to issues raised by the crimes of Wayne Couzens” is the title of a piece published on the Met website last night. It promises to soon publish a new strategy for tackling violence against women and girls. It notes: “We are not aware of any other concerns raised by his colleagues, or anyone else, regarding his behaviour prior to him joining the Met or since.” Considering he was ‘nicknamed’ the “rapist” by former colleagues, that is far from reassuring. (The Times reports that he “exchanged misogynistic, racist and homophobic material with colleagues who are now under criminal investigation”.) It also states that an allegation of indecent exposure from 2015 “may not have been found during the vetting checks” – though even if it had, he would still have passed.
The final section of the article is about what we should do if we have concerns that an officer is a threat, or how we prove an officer is genuine (which Sarah’s murderer, of course, was). If we find ourselves in an interaction alone with a sole police officer, we should “ask some very searching questions of that officer”. And if we continue to feel “in real and imminent danger” after that, the recommendation is that we “seek assistance – shouting out to a passer-by, running into a house, knocking on a door, waving a bus down or if you are in the position to do so calling 999”. This advice is laughable and yet of course deeply unfunny. It is unclear how following any of it – i.e. resisting arrest – would have helped Sarah Everard, who was being arrested by a police officer with every right to “intervene even if off duty”, as the Met statement says.
Real reform and proper regard for the scale of male violence against women and girls seems out of reach. Policing minister Kit Malthouse told BBC Radio 4 this morning: “If there are areas that particularly want to focus on violence against women and girls, feel they have a systemic problem, then the [serious violence] duty allows them to do that.” This is truly pathetic. To pretend that violence against women and girls is only a problem in some local areas is obviously disingenuous. Sarah Jones also points out that when Labour tried to explicitly include VAWG in the serious violence duty the amendment was rejected by the government.
Harriet Harman has called on Met commissioner Cressida Dick to resign. This is nothing like a silver bullet, but just the start of a process, involving essential responses such as suspending – right now – all officers subject to an allegation of violence against a woman. The government is willing to say there has been a “devastating blow to public confidence in the police” but ministers are defending Cressida Dick this morning.
Partly, I presume, because the Labour leadership doesn’t believe her resignation is likely, Keir Starmer expressed his support for Cressida Dick on Thursday morning, saying: “I was pleased that her contract was extended and I support her.” My understanding is that there are no plans for this position to change today. As Harman has highlighted, the commissioner described the officer who killed Sarah Everard as just “the occasional bad’un” and it was on her watch that this litany of failures took place. There is not one reason for us to be confident that Cressida Dick will make the changes needed.Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.