This monstrous crime happened against a backdrop of failure by the criminal justice system to tackle violence against women and girls.
So the independent inquiry that I and others have been calling for is vital – both to establish what went wrong in this case and to look at the wider problems within policing that it exposes.
But the plans announced by the Government don’t yet go far enough. The inquiry they have now promised doesn’t have strong enough powers and their policies to tackle violence against women and girls are too limited. On both issues they need to urgently do more to improve women’s safety and rebuild trust.
The inquiry will need to answer grave questions about how such a dangerous man could have served as a police officer, in a position of power, for so long.
Why wasn’t he fully investigated for indecent exposure?
Why did colleagues call him “the Rapist” but never formally raised concerns?
Why wasn’t he properly vetted either when he transferred forces or was cleared to carry firearms and do sensitive protection work?
Why when he was known to have an interest in violent pornography did no alarm bells sound?
How could so many other officers be involved with him in WhatsApp groups sharing misogynistic material without anyone challenging it?
This matters because it isn’t just about Sarah Everard’s killer.
Given the deep failure of the criminal justice system to tackle violence against women, we need confidence that the police are taking these crimes seriously enough, and that there are systems in place to root out abuse or misogyny among police officers as well as the public.
Instead, we have seen cases of domestic abuse or indecent exposure by police officers and staff not being taken seriously enough, with officers not even suspended while serious allegations were investigated. And women police officers have spoken out about a culture that prevents them challenging colleagues when there are problems.
Across police forces there are hard-working officers doing excellent work to pursue dangerous offenders and to tackle violence against women and girls – including Detective Chief Inspector Katherine Goodwin and the team who caught Sarah Everard’s killer, who were applauded by the judge and Sarah’s family.
But this good work is undermined if abuse or misogyny by others is allowed to go unchecked and trust in the police is broken.
The Government needs to make sure this inquiry is broad and powerful enough to get to the truth, but in its current form it is likely to be too weak.
Ministers are not planning to give it statutory powers to require people to give evidence or to produce information and papers.
A previous inquiry into the Metropolitan Police over corruption involved in the failure to convict anyone for the murder of Daniel Morgan reported that they had struggled to get the answers they needed from the police, and had faced long delays because they didn’t have statutory powers. We can’t afford for that to happen this time.
Nor can we afford to wait for the outcome of this inquiry for wider Government action to tackle violence against women and girls.
Rape prosecutions have plummeted in the last five years. Too many domestic abuse victims aren’t taken seriously even though a third of all recorded violence is domestic abuse. The system fails to identify and target repeat perpetrators whose stalking, harassment, domestic abuse or sexual offending is left to escalate, wrecking more and more women’s lives. In each of these areas urgent reforms are needed.
Most of all Ministers need to show some leadership and require all police forces to make tackling violence against women and girls a priority.
Currently the Home Office requires the police to prioritise terrorism, serious and organised crime and child sexual abuse, but they leave it up to local forces to decide whether crimes like domestic abuse or rape are serious enough to prioritise.
That’s not good enough. People across the country are calling for change in the way the police and criminal justice system tackle violence against women and girls. It is time for the Government to step up, give the inquiry the powers it needs, rebuild trust in policing and bring in the reforms we need.
Yvette Cooper is chair of Parliament’s Home Affairs Select Committee and Labour MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford.
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