Sarah Everard murder: Priti Patel announces inquiry into 'systematic failures' that led to her killing

Priti Patel said there will be an inquiry into the “systematic failures” which enabled Wayne Couzens to continue to be employed as a police officer.

Priti Patel announced the inquiry during a speech at the Conservative Party conference.

Speaking at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester today, the Home Secretary said: “The public have a right to know what systematic failures enabled his continued employment as a police officer.

“We need answers as to why this was allowed to happen.

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“I can confirm today there will be an inquiry, to give the independent oversight needed, to ensure something like this can never happen again.”

It follows a week of pressure from opposition politicians to set up an inquiry after Couzens was jailed for life last week for the murder of Sarah Everard. The serving police officer kidnapped her by making a fake arrest on a street in London before raping and murdering her.

The Home Office has confirmed the inquiry will be made up of two parts and will be set up on a non-statutory basis initially but may be turned into a statutory inquiry, with the power to compel witnesses to attend and evidence to be produced, "if required". Nick Thomas-Symonds MP, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary, said this afternoon that the inquiry should be automatically put on a statutory footing "to ensure there are no barriers in the way to getting answers".

A Home Office spokesperson said: "The first part will examine Wayne Couzens’ previous behaviour and will establish a definitive account of his conduct leading up to his conviction, as well as any opportunities missed, drawing on the Independent Office for Police Conduct’s (IOPC) investigations, once concluded.

"The second part will look at any specific issues raised by the first part of the inquiry, which could include wider issues across policing – including vetting practices, professional standards and discipline, and workplace behaviour.

"Additionally, the Home Secretary will write to the independent police inspectorate HMICFRS to commission a thematic inspection of vetting and counter-corruption procedures in policing across England and Wales – including forces’ ability to detect and deal with misogynistic and predatory behaviour. She has asked for initial findings by the end of 2021, and these will be used to inform the inquiry into Couzens.

"The inquiry will also draw on the conclusions of current investigations by the IOPC into various allegations and incidents throughout Couzens’ career."

The IOPC is currently conducting a number of investigations into matters linked to Couzens. These include the handling of allegations of indecent exposure by Kent Police in 2015 and the Metropolitan Police in 2021 connected to him.

The announcement of the inquiry was welcomed today by Yvette Cooper, who is Labour MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford and chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee.

She wrote on Twitter that the parameters of the inquiry are in line with what Labour has been calling for.

"Very welcome that Home Office has now announced an independent inquiry following Sarah Everard’s murder - understand it will look both at how this dangerous man was able to serve as a police officer, and into wider issues & culture within policing, as we have called for," she said.

Nick Thomas-Symonds MP, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary, said: “Labour has been calling for a full independent inquiry for days, yet the Prime Minister refused to support one. Now the Home Secretary has half-heartedly announced one, but not put it on a robust, statutory footing to ensure there are no barriers in the way to getting answers.

"Labour will study the details of what is proposed very carefully. But taking action on the issue of violence against women and girls cannot be delayed for months or even years pending the outcome of the inquiry. Today, the Government should be getting on with implementing all the recommendations of the damning report from the Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services. Yet Ministers still continue to dither.

“When Parliament next sits, the Home Secretary must bring forward legislation that should toughen laws on street harassment, increase sentences for rape and stalking, fast-track rape and serious sexual violence cases through the courts, and enshrine the rights of victims in a Victims’ Law. Action is needed urgently and the Government has the power to do something about it.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: "The inquiry is as important for the brave, dedicated, and hard-working men and women in our police service, as it is for the public at large. They rightly want, and expect, their colleagues in policing across the country to uphold the same standards and values that they do – and this inquiry therefore seeks to deliver for them as well as the public."

Ms Patel said during her conference speech that she has “redoubled” her efforts to help make women and girls feel safer on the streets.

The Home Secretary told the Conservative Party conference in Manchester: “All our thoughts remain with Sarah Everard’s family and friends.

“Her murderer, whose name I will not repeat, was a monster. His explicit intention was to instill fear and terror in women and girls.

“I say this as Home Secretary, but also as a woman – such unconscionable crimes and acts of violence against women and girls have no place in our society.

“That is why I have redoubled my efforts to ensure women and girls feel safer.”

The Home Office has also announced that Boris Johnson will launch a taskforce chaired by Ms Patel "to drive cross-government action on tackling violence against women and girls to help maintain public confidence in policing".

It will look at how the police currently assess risk, threat and harm to the general public when responding to and investigating non-contact sexual offences such as flashing, which are known to often lead onto more serious or repeat offending.

The new group will report into the Crime and Justice Taskforce chaired by the Prime Minister. Minister for Crime and Policing, Kit Malthouse, and Maggie Blyth, the newly appointed top cop for Violence Against Women and Girls, will also attend. It will meet for the first time in the autumn.

On Monday, Met Police chief Dame Cressida Dick announced she has called in an independent reviewer to look at the force’s culture and standards following Couzens’ whole life sentencing last week for the killing of Sarah Everard, who was originally from York.

Dame Cressida said she plans to announce who will undertake the review, expected to take at least six months, in about a week’s time.

Jess Phillips, shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding, described the Met's review as “sticking plaster” and said she was concerned it was an “improved PR exercise rather than a systematic change exercise”.