'Radical overhaul' of police needed to stop another Wayne Couzens hiding in 'plain sight'

The damning report warned that without a radical overhaul of policing practices and culture, there is 'nothing to stop another Couzens operating in plain sight'. ITV News' UK Editor Paul Brand reports

Police services require a "radical overhaul" to its recruitment process to stop another Wayne Couzens operating in "plain sight," the first report from the independent Angiolini inquiry finds.

Led by Dame Elish Angiolini, the inquiry looked into how Couzens, a former armed Metropolitan Police officer, was able to abduct, rape and murder Sarah Everard in March 2021.

Taking into account evidence spanning a 20-year-period, it found Couzens "should never have been a police officer" and opportunities to stop him continuing his career and offending were continuously missed.

It demands a "radical overhaul" of police vetting and recruitment to stop future offenders like Couzens being denied opportunities to abuse police powers for sexual purpose.

The report stated three police forces - Kent Police, Civil Nuclear Constabulary and the Metropolitan Police Service - "allowed him the privilege" of being a police officer when they should have stopped him and repeatedly ignored red flags to stop him continuing his career and offending.

It also found evidence that Couzens allegedly committed a very serious sexual assault against a child, described as barely in her teens, before his policing career even started.

The report added there were four other alleged incidents of sexual offending that were not reported to the police, and the inquiry believes there may be more victims.

While the inquiry did not make a conclusive finding that Ms Everard’s murder could have been prevented, it found that Couzens could have been sacked if investigations into indecent exposure reports had been more thorough.

His crimes were “the culmination of a trajectory of sexually motivated behaviour and offending”, including indecent exposure, the sexual assault on a child, sexual touching and sharing unsolicited photos of his genitals, the report found.

It said there were also allegations he possessed indecent images of children.

The report found Couzens’ history of alleged sexual offending and preference for extreme violent pornography dated back nearly 20 years before Ms Everard's murder.

Sarah Everard was killed after she was kidnapped while walking home from a friend’s flat Credit: Family handout/PA

Ms Everard's family said in a statement the abuse of his position led to her death.

“We believe that Sarah died because he was a police officer - she would never have got into a stranger’s car," her parents and siblings Sue, Jeremy, Katie and James said.

"We strongly support the recommendations that Lady Elish has made and trust that these will be implemented forthwith. We cannot get Sarah back but positive changes give hope for the future and will be of benefit to others.

"It is almost three years now since Sarah died. We no longer wait for her call; we no longer expect to see her. We know she won’t be there at family gatherings. But the desperate longing to have her with us remains and the lost of Sarah pervades every part of our lives.”

Met Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley said in a press conference on Thursday: "One of the things that I took from the report was how Wayne Couzens was very careful to disguise and hide his corrupt and toxic and criminal views and behaviours."

Sir Mark said most officers who worked with Couzens "had no inkling" and vowed to find staff exhibiting similar, concerning behaviour.

"We're going to be relentless about this, I need to reassure women and children in London that we really get this," he added.

The Home Office said the government said will “thoroughly consider the recommendations” made by the report .

“Since 2021, the government has been driving forward a body of work to strengthen the way police officers are vetted, scrutinised and disciplined, and more broadly, efforts to put a stop to violence against women and girls,” the department said in its response.

“However, the report today highlights the need for further action and the Government, in tandem with policing partners, will thoroughly consider the recommendations made by Lady Elish and respond in full in due course.”

Addressing MPs in the Commons, Home Secretary James Cleverly announced police officers will be automatically suspended in future if charged with certain criminal offences.

“There will be a presumption for dismissal for any officer found to have committed gross misconduct.

“I can announce today that there will also be an automatic suspension of police officers charged with certain criminal offences.”

Here is a timeline of events concerning the former police officer:

  • 2002: Couzens joins the Kent Special Constabulary.

  • 2015: Kent Police allegedly fail to investigate an indecent exposure incident linked to Couzens.

  • September 2018: Couzens transfers to the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), from the Civil Nuclear Constabulary (CNC) where he had worked since 2011.

  • 2019: Couzens and his wife buy a small area of woodland off Fridd Lane in Ashford, Kent.

  • February 2019: The PC joins a response team covering the Bromley area of south London, having initially served in a Safer Neighbourhood Team.

  • February 2020: He moves to the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Command to patrol diplomatic premises, mainly embassies.

  • November 13, 2020: He steps out of a woodland area in Deal, Kent, naked and masturbates as a woman cycles past.

  • February 14 and 27, 2021: Couzens exposes himself to two female staff members at a drive-through fast food restaurant in Kent. He used his own credit card to pay and was driving his own car.

  • February 28, 2021: Couzens books a white Vauxhall Astra from a car hire firm in Dover, Kent, using his personal details and bank card.

  • March 2, 2021: 7pm: Couzens starts a 12-hour shift at his base in West Brompton, west London.

  • March 3, 2021: Then-Met Pc Samantha Lee goes to the fast food restaurant but does not trace Couzens’ car, despite the restaurant manager claiming his registration number is visible in CCTV footage. She is later sacked and barred from working as a police officer.Later that evening Couzens uses his status as a police officer to trick Ms Everard into thinking she can be arrested for breaking lockdown rules in place at the time. After murdering her, Couzens hides her body in woodland near Ashford in Kent.

Sarah Everard was walking home from a friends house near Clapham Common when Couzens kidnapped her. Credit: Family handout/PA
  • March 9, 2021: Couzen’s phone is wiped of all data about 40 minutes before he is arrested on suspicion of murder. In a brief interview, he tells a false story about being threatened by an Eastern European gang.

  • July 9, 2021: Couzens pleads guilty to murder when he appears at the Old Bailey by video link from Belmarsh high security jail.

  • September 30 2021: Couzens receives a whole life order when he is sentenced, with Lord Justice Fulford justifying the punishment because the murderer’s use of his position as a police officer to detain Ms Everard was the “vital factor”.

  • October 2021: Couzens applies for leave to appeal against his sentence.

  • November 2021: The Home Office establishes an independent inquiry led by Dame Elish Angiolini to look at Ms Everard’s murder, with the first part focusing on Couzens and whether any potential risks or red flags were missed during his time in the police.

  • March 2022: Couzens is charged with four counts of indecent exposure over alleged incidents in January and February 2021.

  • July 2022: The Court of Appeal rejects his appeal against his sentence.

  • February 13, 2023: Couzens pleads guilty to three counts of indecent exposure in Kent between November 2020 and February 2021.

  • March 6, 2023: He is sentenced to 19 months for the offences, although he is already serving a whole life jail term for Ms Everard’s murder and will never be released.

  • March 21, 2023: The Casey Review, commissioned by the Met in the wake of Ms Everard’s murder, finds that the force is institutionally racist, homophobic and misogynist, and that there may be more officers like Couzens and rapist David Carrick in its ranks.

  • May 2023: Watchdog the Independent Office for Police Conduct calls for a national system to ensure all forces are told about criminal allegations made against serving officers, in light of the indecent exposure accusations against Couzens.

  • February 29, 2024: A report on the first part of the Angiolini Inquiry, looking at incidents during his career and whether red flags were missed, is published.

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