Cressida Dick must be held accountable over Couzens case, says ex-Met chief

Cressida Dick must be held accountable for an “appalling series of blunders” that allowed the killer of Sarah Everard to serve as a police officer, a former head of the Metropolitan police has said.

John Stevens said Dick, the current Met commissioner, and former home secretaries such as Theresa May should ask themselves if they bear any responsibility for failures that allowed Wayne Couzens to serve as an armed officer.

Couzens allegedly shared offensive material on a WhatsApp group with five serving officers, including three from the Met, months before he raped and murdered Everard. He has also been linked to three instances of indecent exposure, including one six years ago when he was at Kent police, but no action was taken and he was allowed to pass vetting processes to become an armed Met officer, mainly guarding embassies.

Lord Stevens, who was the commissioner of Britain’s biggest police force for five years until 2005, stopped short of calling for Dick to step down, instead saying she should change the vetting procedures and get rid of officers who may be a danger to the public.

“Both the commissioner and the politicians who have cut resources to the Met must take some responsibility,” he told the Guardian.

He said the force had been hollowed out over the last 10 years because of cuts, especially while May was home secretary between 2010 and 2016. “If it was anyone it was Theresa May, who was home secretary for a record length of time. When the cuts were made, they hollowed out the centre of the force. Those cuts have made a big difference,” he said.

Asked if Dick could continue in the job, Stevens said she should ask herself some searching questions. “You have to look at yourself and say: can I continue? Can I continue with confidence? Can I continue in way that brings around the change that’s necessary to make the public feel safe – and in this particular instance, women safe – and further, have we got people in the police service who should not be there?” he said.

The vetting process for serving police officers was “not fit for purpose” and must be immediately overhauled, he said. “I cannot quite understand how this monster was ever allowed to have a gun. The vetting process is not fit for purpose. The actual recruitment process is, I understand, contracted out. Is that a factor in the way that police officers are vetted?

“Before any officer is allowed to carry firearms, they must be psychologically vetted. How on earth did he get through this process? I just do not understand it.”

Asked if he backed calls from Labour for an independent inquiry, Stevens said he favoured an inquiry that could be conducted quickly and as independently as possible. “Some inquiries can take years. We do not have years, we need to address the recruitment of officers quickly and win back the public’s trust at speed,” he said.

Simon Bailey, a former chief constable who was the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on violence and public protection until June, said society should work together to tackle violence against women. “It has to start in the home, in schools and it demands a whole-societal approach,” he said.

Factors contributing to the problem included online porn, he said, after the court heard that Couzens’ colleagues knew he was “attracted to violent sexual pornography”. “The behaviours of men are unfortunately being shaped and framed by what they are viewing online, and as a result in some cases harm is being caused. It has worn away the boundaries of what is healthy and normal and it is negatively impacting on how men treat women,” Bailey said.

In 2015 Couzens is believed to have been reported to police for being naked from the waist down in a car in Kent, and he is accused of exposing himself twice at a London McDonald’s days before the murder of Everard. Details of cars linked to Couzens in both instances were passed to police but no checks were carried out to link him to the alleged crimes.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission said three officers were being criminally investigated for sending grossly offensive material between March and October 2019. These messages were discovered during the investigation into Everard’s murder. As many as 16 serving or former police officers are believed to be under investigation.

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