50.50: Opinion

Who's surprised that the suspected killer of Sarah Everard is a policeman?

The Met is a violent institution, so it’s no surprise that a policeman is being questioned about Everard’s murder. More police won’t protect us

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Nandini Archer
12 March 2021, 2.35pm
Flowers left in tribute to Sarah Everard at Clapham Common bandstand
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Anna Watson / Alamy Stock Photo

Who would have thought that, in 2021, the suspected attacker of a woman walking home in London would be a member of an institution that should have been there to protect her?

There’s been an outpouring of anger across the UK after the police found human remains in Kent, now confirmed to be those of Sarah Everard, 33, who disappeared last week on her way home from a friend’s house in Clapham, south London.

We don’t know much about the man who’s been detained and questioned on suspicion of Everard’s kidnapping and murder. We know that his name is Wayne Couzens, that he is also being questioned about a separate allegation of indecent exposure – and that he is a serving Metropolitan Police officer who was off-duty at the time of her disappearance.

Met commissioner Cressida Dick tried to reassure women and said that it’s incredibly rare for women to be abducted from London’s streets and that the arrest had "sent shockwaves" through the force.

Who’s not shocked that a policeman could have been responsible for this crime, though? Answer: anyone who’s been targeted by the police before – and anyone who knows that the police are inherently a violent institution.

Anyone who knows the story of Sarah Reed, who was found dead in her prison cell in 2016, won’t be surprised that a policeman is the suspect

When the Black Lives Matter movement flourished in the UK last summer we heard again the names of men and women who have died at the hands of the police in this country – from Joy Gardner who was restrained and gagged by police during an immigration raid in 1993, to Rashan Charles, who was pinned down and choked by a police officer in a Hackney newsagent in 2017.

And anyone who knows the story of Sarah Reed, who was found dead in her prison cell in 2016, won’t be surprised that a policeman is the suspect either. A few years before, Reed was falsely arrested for shoplifting and beaten by a police officer.

Too many women know they can’t go to the police for fear of deportation or further brutality. Too many women know that the police often take the side of the perpetrator.

Katrina O’Hara, a hairdresser from Dorset, was murdered in 2016 by her ex-partner, just eight days after reporting him to the police for domestic violence. But the police seized her phone as part of the inquiry, leaving her with no means of calling for help.

Police abuse women ‘with impunity’

The legal charity Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ) reported last year that police had been allowed to abuse women with impunity in what it called a “locker-room culture” – and that officers had been harassing and punishing women who did accuse fellow officers of abuse.

The CWJ data, gathered from 30 of the 43 police forces in England and Wales, revealed that there were 666 reports of domestic abuse perpetrated by officers and other staff over a period of three years.

The Metropolitan Police’s latest move is also disturbing: it is threatening to prosecute the organisers of a socially distanced vigil for Sarah Everard taking place this Saturday

In May 2020, yet another police officer, Timothy Brehmer, killed his lover Claire Parry. As a “trained and experienced” road traffic police officer, “you must have known that her body had gone limp after your assault on her,” the judge said to Brehmer in court.

The mother of Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry, two sisters stabbed to death in a park in Wembley, north London last summer said her grief had "been taken to another place" after two officers were suspended for allegedly taking selfies next to the women’s bodies. A further six officers were investigated over the photos but not suspended.

Labour MP Zarah Sultana tweeted yesterday: “Can we please think beyond ‘more police officers’ as the only response to violence against women and girls?”

And others agreed: “Better checks on police [recruitment] would be a start. Too many of them commit crimes. And they’re supposed to protect the public.”

The Metropolitan Police’s latest move is also disturbing: it is threatening to prosecute the organisers of a socially distanced vigil for Sarah Everard taking place this Saturday in Clapham. The #ReclaimTheseStreets organisers say they want to “channel the collective grief, outrage and sadness in our community”.

It’s ironic then that, earlier this week, the Met tried to show they were marking International Women’s Day with events across London. Cressida Dick can celebrate all the women’s days she wants. She can tell us that this latest case is rare and shocking – but we know the truth: that it’s not just a few bad apples.

There’s a structural problem with the police, it lets violent men join their ranks and it fosters a culture of impunity. Time and again, the police show us their true violent colours.

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