Met police chief Cressida Dick must resign over Sarah Everard murder, Harriet Harman says

Senior MP says it is ‘not possible’ for police to reform with commissioner still in post

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Thursday 30 September 2021 14:34
Wayne Couzens sentenced to full-life term for kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard

The chief of the Metropolitan Police should step down in the wake of the killing of Sarah Everard, a senior MP has said.

Harriet Harman, who chairs parliament’s joint human rights committee, said in a letter to Cressida Dick that it was “not possible” for her to stay in post as “women’s confidence in the police has been shattered”.

Ms Harman, a former interim Labour leader, said a number of actions were required to rebuild confidence and that they could not be carried out with Dame Cressida in post as Met police commissioner.

In a separate letter to the Home Secretary Priti Patel Ms Harman spelled out a seven-step plan to reform the police in the wake of the killing, which was carried out by a serving police officer, reportedly with the aid of his warrant card and handcuffs.

She said that all serving police officers against whom there was an allegation of violence against women should be suspended, and that this should become routine.

Ms Harman said any officer who admitted or was found guilty of such an offence should be immediately dismissed from the force, that all recruits should be pre-screened for their attitudes towards women, and that officers who transfer between forces should face checks.

She also called for all serving officers to be given a training course asking them to examine their own attitudes to women, and that anyone who failed to report an officer for an allegations of violence against women should be dismissed from the police service.

The MP's call for Dame Cressida to go follows a call on 9 September when figures including Baroness Lawrence, Lady Brittan, and Alastair Morgan – high profile victims of police injustice – also said she should step down.

Ms Harman’s call is a break from her party’s position, as Keir Starmer as repeatedly defended the Met Commissioner and said she should not be replaced.

He had told ITV's Good Morning Britain programme earlier on Thursday: "I have worked with Cressida Dick over many years in relation to some very serious operations when I was director of public prosecutions. I was pleased that her contract was extended and I support her."

Sir Keir called for a new victims’ law that would "better provision in relation to violence against women and girls in law".

Following Ms Harman's comments, a spokesperson for Sir Keir's office confirmed the leader was not calling for Dame Cressida to resign, and said: "Keir has said that there has to be a review to get to the bottom of how this individual was able to be in the position he was. There were signs and evidence of past behaviour that should have been looked into properly and this needs to be investigated. To ensure this never happens again, we need systemic change.”

Wayne Couzens, who pleaded guilty to kidnapping and murder, abducted the 33-year-old as she walked home from visiting a friend's house in south London on 3 March this year.

The officer was sentenced on Thursday to a whole-life prison term as a judge said he had displayed “no evidence of genuine contrition”.

“There have been many warnings about perpetrators of male violence against women within the police force, which she has not acted on, and she has not heeded,” Ms Harman told BBC News.

“It was on her watch that Wayne Couzens' offences, that he'd carried out, sexual offences, a few days before, were swept under the carpet, by his colleagues and not investigated. So, she also responded by saying he was a 'bad 'un', like it was one bad apple. I think she showed that she is not the person to be the change that is necessary.”

She added: “I think the Home Secretary will ask herself: does she as Home Secretary need to make absolutely certain that that precious bond of trust between women in London, and the police is absolutely secure as Home Secretary, she is found to know that that is her responsibility. She's bound to know that there needs to be dramatic, and immediate action and she will also know that she will not be able to rely on Cressida Dick to take these forward with determination. And therefore, I think that she will want to ask Cressida Dick to resign.”

Speaking to broadcasters, Ms Patel was asked whether the Commissioner should resign, and replied: “There are important questions and questions that I’ve been asking, and challenges: we have to be honest about this in particular to this case, but also the conduct of that serving officer and conduct of policing more broadly. So, I will continue to work with the Metropolitan Police and the commissioner to hold them to account as everybody would expect me to do, and I will continue to do that.”

Meanwhile Yvette Cooper, the chair of parliament’s home affairs select committee, called for an inquiry. She said the “full, independent investigation” should look into violence against women and girls in the police service.

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