Herts police chief addresses concerns after Sarah Everard murder sentencing
- Credit: PA/Herts police
The murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Metropolitan police officer has raised concerns about policing in the country, particularly in relation to the safety of women and girls.
Sarah was walking home on March 3, when off-duty Wayne Couzens used his police warrant card to stop Sarah, and arrested and handcuffed her - most likely citing breach of COVID lockdown as reason for doing so. The 33-year-old's body was found a week after the abduction - she had been raped, murdered and her body burnt.
Couzens was given a whole-life order by Justice Fulford at the Old Bailey sentencing on Thursday. The misuse of a police officer's role in order to carry out the horrific crime was cited as reason for the 48-year-old to never be released from prison.
Impact on public confidence
Understandably, many are now reflecting on the notion of being approached by a lone officer. If you needed help and a police officer presented themselves, or you catch sight of one - what is the right thing to do if you question your own safety? Feelings of confusion, unease, anxiety or complete mistrust in the police are now being voiced online and debated in the news.
The Met released a statement which included: "Couzens betrayed Sarah and all of us when he used his knowledge, status and equipment to deceive and abduct Sarah and we do not understate the impact this has had on public confidence.
"The fact that he used equipment given to him by the Met is reprehensible and it compounds the dreadful nature of his crimes. "
They also outlined that every police officer has a warrant card to identify them as a member of the police.
Policing minister Kit Malthouse MP today told Sky News: "If anybody has any doubts about that police officer, they should question the officer on what they're doing and if there are any doubts they should ask to speak to the control room on that officer's radio or call 999. That is the devastating consequence of this awful man's actions."
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What about policing in Herts?
Chief Constable Charlie Hall heads up Hertfordshire Constabulary. This newspaper requested his thoughts on the Sarah Everard case, and guidance on what to do if you encounter a lone police officer or find something not quite right about what is happening should an officer present themselves to you.
Ch Con Hall said: "First and foremost, our thoughts are with the family and loved ones of Sarah Everard who have had to endure a nightmare in these past months. They have remained dignified and strong throughout, but we can only imagine the pain and suffering that they continue to go through at this time.
"Wayne Couzens will never be free to pose a threat to any woman or girl again and I hope they take some comfort from that.
"His wicked actions also provoked feelings of great anger, sadness and shock among those working in policing. He betrayed every single police officer and staff member who have dedicated their working lives to preventing crime and keeping people safe.
"We recognise damage he will have caused to communities’ confidence in policing, and I am certain that the service nationally will learn from what has happened. He is however in no way reflective of policing generally and we as a force remain absolutely committed to protecting women and girls from violence and abuse and keeping our streets safe for everyone."
On verifying the identity of a police officer in Herts
Charlie added: “The monstrous actions of Wayne Couzens are a terrible abuse of power and do not represent policing. Police officers and staff who want to protect the public are sickened by this man’s crimes. We understand how deeply concerning his actions are and the desire to know how to verify an officers’ identity.
“Police officers always carry identification and can always be asked for verification. They are used to providing that reassurance.
“It would be extremely unusual for an officer in plain clothes to be working alone. If they are, they should be calling for assistance with other officers arriving very soon. This is standard practice.
"In light of the actions of Wayne Couzens it is right that police officers expect and are tolerant of those who wish to be further reassured. They will want to explain and reassure who they are, what they are doing and why.
“If people still feel things are not quite right or you are in imminent danger you must seek assistance, if that means shouting out to another member of the public, flagging a car down or even dialling 999 then do that.”