Cressida Dick must resign to restore women’s confidence in the Metropolitan Police, senior politicians said on Thursday after details emerged of the failures that led to an officer falsely arresting a woman to kidnap and murder her.
The chair of parliament’s women and equalities committee, Tory MP Caroline Nokes, joined former Labour justice secretary Harriet Harman and a chorus of others in calling for the commissioner to step down over Sarah Everard’s killing.
The Met chief was forced to admit the crimes of Wayne Couzens had broken the bond of trust between the public and police.
“There are no words that can express the fury and overwhelming sadness that we all feel about what happened to Sarah,” she said outside the Old Bailey where Couzens was given a whole life-sentence. “I am so sorry.”
Couzens, who murdered Ms Everard after kidnapping her in south London under the guise of an arrest, had been known by police colleagues as “the rapist” because of his behaviour – and had already been questioned about an alleged sex offence shortly before he killed his victim.
Five officers are reportedly under investigation for sharing offensive material with Couzens in a WhatsApp group before the killing.
The force also admitted on Thursday that a 2015 allegation of indecent exposure linked to Couzens was missed during his vetting process, and that investigations continue into whether he was responsible for other unsolved crimes.
It later took the extraordinary step of issuing safety advice to women who are suspicious of male officers, suggesting they “shout out to a passer-by, run into a house or wave a bus down” if in fear.
Ms Harman, who chairs parliament’s joint human rights committee, told the commissioner in a letter it was “not possible” for her to stay in post as “women’s confidence in the police has been shattered”.
Adding to the pressure, Ms Nokes told The Independent: “It is clear that change is needed in the Met, to make sure the confidence of women is restored. Rebuilding the trust that is needed will be an enormous challenge for Cressida Dick, and one I am not convinced she can meet.”
Yvette Cooper, who chairs parliament’s home affairs committee, said there should be a wide-ranging independent inquiry into the “deep failures in policing” that allowed Couzens to serve as an officer, as well as the wider culture in the service.
Explaining her call for Dame Cressida to quit, Ms Harman said: “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.
“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.”
Writing to home secretary Priti Patel, Ms Harman spelt out a seven-step plan to reform the police in the wake of the killing.
The MP said all serving police officers against whom there was an allegation of violence against women should be routinely suspended.
She 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.
The Labour MP said: “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.”
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.”
Ms Harman's view is a break from her party line, as leader Sir Keir Starmer as repeatedly defended the 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.”
But another senior police officer, former Met chief superintendent Parm Sandhu told Times Radio that “the buck stops with the boss and the boss is Cressida”.
She added: “This has happened on her watch. We need a new set of fresh eyes, somebody who’s going to be independent, who’s not going to be afraid of turning over those stones and finding those awful reptiles underneath it.”
And former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott added: “Harriet Harman is right. Women should be able to trust the police. Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick must resign.”
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