As it emerges that Wayne Couzens used his police ID to kidnap and murder Sarah Everard, London’s force has told people to challenge plain-clothes police – or even ‘hail a bus’ to save you from them
Yesterday (September 30), former Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens was sentenced to a whole-life term for the kidnap, rape, and murder of Sarah Everard. The details that have emerged from the hearing are horrifying – particularly the fact that Couzens used his police ID to stage a fake arrest of Everard and trick her into his car.
The 33-year-old vanished on March 3 while walking home to Brixton from Clapham – her body was formally identified on March 12 after being found in Kent woodland. In Couzens’ sentencing, it was revealed that the Met officer trawled the streets looking for a lone woman; when he came across Everard, he used his police ID and training to handcuff and ‘arrest’ her, before driving her to Kent where he raped her, strangled her to death with his police belt, and then burned her body. A couple witnessed Everard’s kidnapping, but presumed she was being arrested for doing something wrong.
In an attempt to reassure the public in light of these chilling revelations, the Met Police has now said it is “entirely reasonable” to challenge a lone plain-clothes officer and demand their identity and intentions. As reported by BBC News, the force has advised people detained to ask, ‘Where are your colleagues?’ and ‘Where have you come from?’ Other “searching questions” include, ‘Exactly why are you stopping or talking to me?’
It added: “All officers will, of course, know about this case and will be expecting in an interaction like that – rare as it may be – that members of the public may be understandably concerned and more distrusting than they previously would have been, and should and will expect to be asked more questions.”
As well as showing Everard his police warrant card, Couzens used the knowledge he’d gained from working on COVID patrols to convince her of his genuity. He had both identification and a seemingly valid and informed intention.
“The police have always been violent and antagonistic towards anyone who questions them,” grassroots activist group Sisters Uncut tells Dazed. “How they choose to behave (now) will probably not differ from how they have always behaved – like misogynistic, racist bullies.”
For those who feel they’re in “real and imminent danger” during an interaction with an alleged plain-clothes officer, the Met suggests that you shout to a passerby, run away, hail a bus, or even call the cops on the cops.
I can't tell you how angry this suggestion makes me. "Women: when confronted by a potential rapist, have you thought of simply asking to check his credentials?"— Helen Lewis (@helenlewis) October 1, 2021
The conversation now should be about what police forces must do differently, not women. https://t.co/I2Ay43hCZo
“If many members of the police are coming forward to say they would run away or jump on a bus, they clearly have admitted an internal problem with violence,” says Sisters Uncut. “The most laughable suggestion is that if we feel we are speaking to an officer who is pretending, we should call 999, but Wayne Couzens wasn’t faking. He was a real police officer. This is about coercion and abuse by police, not people pretending to be officers.”
Although the Met has said they “do not view” Couzens as a police officer – if only Everard had this luxury – police violence against women is neither unique nor unreported. A recent report by the Femicide Census revealed that women have been killed by at least 15 serving or former police in the UK since 2009, while an investigation by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that police forces in England, Scotland, and Wales received nearly 800 allegations of sexual misconduct by police officers over three years, including reports of rape and sexual assault.
No clearer was the police’s violent nature than at the March 13 vigil for Everard. Following her murder, mourners attempted to come together on Clapham Common, but the Met pushed back, citing the same COVID regulations that Couzens used to kidnap Everard as the reason for blocking the event. When people gathered despite the restrictions – to mourn publicly, protest police violence, and speak out against a culture of violence against women – male officers responded with force by, as Sisters Uncut said at the time, “grabbing and manhandling women in the crowd”.
“Wayne Couzens wasn’t faking. He was a real police officer. This is about coercion and abuse by police, not people pretending to be officers” – Sisters Uncut
What’s more, officers refused to help a woman who was flashed by a man as she made her way home – Couzens, too, was reported for indecent exposure on at least four separate occasions before he killed Everard, with no action taken against him. He was also nicknamed ‘The Rapist’ by colleagues who found him creepy towards women.
Despite confirming that officers breached fundamental rights at the vigil by misinterpreting coronavirus laws, antagonising protesters, and using excessive force, the government responded to police violence by increasing police power, including a proposal to send undercover cops to nightclubs and making misogyny a hate crime. Today (October 1), in order to supposedly ease fears following Everard’s murder, the Met has also increased police presence, putting an extra 650 officers on London’s streets.
The police crackdown at the vigil brought attention to the government’s attempt to push its Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts bill through parliament, which would further increase police powers and restrict the public’s right to protest. Kill the Bill protests swept the country, and, unsurprisingly, were met with excessive police violence. The bill has since been passed.
You know what would make women safer? If they felt comfortable reporting "minor" incidents like flashing, groping, harassment. If those were believed and properly investigated and taken seriously. If the men didn't learn how much they can get away with and go on to do worse.— Rachel Cunliffe (@RMCunliffe) October 1, 2021
“The police is an institution built on coercion and violence, and it is one so rotten that it is incapable of reform,” continues Sisters Uncut. “What we hope to change now is how the public engages. There are many more of us than them, and we have the power to stop people being kidnapped, thrown in the back of vans and cars, and driven off with no witnesses. It is time for our communities to skill up in police intervention, bystander intervention, and start local Cop Watch groups.”
With this in mind, the activist group is set to launch its own police intervention training, which will “cover the bases of how to work together to intervene with police officer stop and searches, bystander intervention, and help build Cop Watch patrols within your community”.
“We will resist every attempt made by the government and the police to brush their culpability under the carpet,” declares Sisters Uncut, “as well as every callous attempt they make to use gendered violence to give the police more power to abuse us.”
Sisters Uncut’s police intervention training will take place online. You can sign up here.