As the daughter of a proud policeman with 30 years service, nothing has shocked me more than the brutal murder of Sarah Everard.
He may have had the badge but he is evil personified. And that makes it worse. Sarah’s story is the stuff of nightmares for every woman across the land.
Wayne Couzens went out to commit a crime against a woman. Any woman. He falsely used his warrant card to handcuff his victim on the grounds that she had breached Covid regulations. He bundled her into the back of his hire car and drove her to her death. In other words he used the law to break the law. He abused his position as a guardian of the community to abuse and murder a woman who was anything other than naive.
Sarah Everard was described by her family as streetwise, that’s why at the height of the investigation they could not believe it had happened to her. She would never, they said, get into a stranger’s car. But then she didn’t. She got into the car of a predatory police officer. And what is worse, his force should have known of his tendencies.
It begs the question if the police can’t police their own what chance do we have of staying safe. My father would be horrified. Good honest police officers, men and women, will be horrified. And so should we all.
In court, Sarah Everard’s father demanded that Couzens look him in the eye as he told him he would never forgive him. How could he? No wonder her family are both devastated and angry. We, as women, should be angry too. We know, according to Dame Vera Baird the Victims Commissioner, that when a police officer is accused of sexual violence half of them remain in post.
Let us not forget that six years earlier a car linked to Couzens was associated with an act of indecent exposure while he worked as a volunteer with the Kent Force. Yet he passed the vetting to join the Met. Days before he killed Sarah it happened again. And still he was not stripped of his warrant card. So how the hell can we trust them to protect us? If we have learned anything this week it is that this has to change and change now.
For heaven’s sake, is there still the need for a movement which began 40 years ago during the Ripper inquiry called Reclaim the Streets or Reclaim the Night? Sadly, the answer is ‘yes’ when the emphasis is on telling women what they shouldn’t be doing, including walking home alone, rather than to tell men that they will be shown no mercy. That the force of law is watching. We are the victims here, not the cause. We are not to blame. And why on earth should we have to live behind closed doors because the police can’t guarantee our safety if we venture out after dark? Or, heaven forbid, even in broad daylight.
For too long the abuse of women has been ignored or at least downgraded in the list of police priorities. They can target burglars, terrorists and drug dealers, but not the protection of fifty per cent of the population. And this, I am afraid, is the result of decades of complacency which I witnessed when I first became a journalist and heard the phrase “It’s only a domestic”. That phrase may now be forbidden but the fact is that of the women who have protection orders in place against those who would hurt them, in two thirds of cases no action is taken when those orders are breached.
We know women don’t report rape crimes because of the shocking failure to bring the perpetrators to court. And we also know that since Sarah Everard died just a few months ago more than 70 other women have lost their lives at the hands of men.
The murder of Sarah affects us all. On the day the shocking report which called the increase in violence against women an ‘epidemic’ was released, another young woman lost her life. And we have ongoing cases in our area which show that women are far from safe. Others will lose their lives unless they are believed and are protected.
So what can be done? Firstly if a woman makes a complaint she must be taken seriously. And to Police forces up and down the country here is my message. You can put all the guidance you like on your websites telling us to walk home in groups, avoid dimly lit areas or, as the Met put it in their Tips for Staying Safe on the Streets, “look assertive and act and walk with confidence. This will always make you appear in control and much less vulnerable.”
Words are easy. Actions speak louder. The Met Police in its online advice tell us as women to trust our instincts. We do. And instinctively we know we are not safe.
Women have the right to carry on their lives as they wish. And it is up to police forces to protect those rights. Men do not have the right to abuse us. And the law must be strengthened to enforce that message.
The solution lies in the hands of the law enforcers. It is up to them to ensure our safety, not for us to lock ourselves away because they can’t guarantee our safety. We demand the right to be safe. And it is up to every police force in the land to ensure that we are. No excuses. No words. Just action. Now is the time.