How can women and girls ever trust the police again? Lessons from the inquiry into Sarah Everard’s murder

How can women and girls trust the police at any time, let alone in a week like this? The Angiolini Inquiry into the Sarah Everard case has again brought into focus both police failures and the misogyny still present in our police force. Also this week, there was finally a conviction for the appalling rape and murder of Emma Caldwell in 2005, justice delayed by a ‘toxic culture of misogyny and corruption’ in Strathclyde Police. It has been devastating and depressing to learn the extent to which very visible red flags were missed in the case of Everard’s killer, by not one but three police forces and their vetting systems. Whilst many police work hard and do a good job, we cannot ignore the evidence of the scale of the problem – failures across geographies and across almost 20 years.

The essential, painful work of the Angiolini Inquiry, aided by the Everard family, enables us to understand, learn from and do better in terms of institutional misogyny and standards in policing. The independent inquiry made 16 recommendations in its initial report including changes to police vetting and recruitment processes, how indecent exposure is understood and investigated, zero tolerance of racism and sexism, and a focus on the recruitment and retention of women. This latest review follows Baroness Casey’s 2023 review into the Met Police that found it was failing women and children, that a decade of austerity had decimated policing, that it was institutionally racist, sexist and homophobic and, unable to police itself.

Following the convictions of Couzens and Carrick the Met police have suspended or restricted the duties of more than a 1,000 officers (around 1 in 34) with allegations of domestic or sexual abuse against them; about 1 in 3 staff have been moved on from the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Command. These numbers are breathtaking. This rigorous and comprehensive action must continue if we are ever to restore the most basic level of trust between women and police, between those from the global majority and police. Policing by consent requires trust.

What the Inquiry makes painfully clear is that Labour in government will have a mountain to climb to achieve its National Mission to halve violence against women and girls. But it’s the only party that can do so. James Cleverly’s response on Thursday was unconvincing and lacklustre, saying he needed time to ‘consider the recommendations’ from Angiolini. It is clear the Tories have lost their way on even the most basic duties of government – keeping the public safe. As people who care about our communities, as the Party of law and order, we need to keep stepping up and demonstrating our commitment to cleaning up policing and improving standards in public life. Two years ago Yvette Cooper and team called for a complete overhaul of police vetting with national mandatory standards. But this is surely just one building block in the overhaul of the police that is needed. 

Whilst we work hard to realise our hope of a Labour government later this year, there is plenty of inspiration to be found where Labour is in power on how to work with the police to ensure higher standards and increase community safety. In Islington we increased Safe Havens in our borough, meeting our 2022 manifesto commitment of 300. Safe Havens are local businesses who can sign up to assist anyone who comes in and is in need of help. Our executive member for Community Safety Cllr John Woolf, worked closely with the Borough Command Unit to devise a bespoke 10 point Action Plan, following Baroness Casey’s review, acting as a critical friend. Each of the ten points contains practical actions to move our local police forward on the key issues raised.

Under Strengthening Local Policing it includes the creation of a co-produced charter on Stop and Search, working with and learning from the expertise of local communities. The action on Enhancing Professionalism includes establishing a Professionalism Board, with the inclusion of independent members, to drive standards and regular “health” checks internally on commitments to be free from discrimination of all kinds. There are unsurprising action points on protecting the most vulnerable, delivering high quality investigations and strengthening public protection.

The action plan is also clear on the need to develop and support police officers, rather than leaving learning, growth and professional development to chance. If we want standards in policing and other public institutions to change we have to invest in equipping those who serve to continuously learn and improve. Our Labour Police and Crime Commissioners are also pioneering work that could be adopted as national policy by an incoming Labour government. In Durham, the PCC Joy Allen has a scheme to ensure closer working relationships between the police and the Independent Sexual Violence Advocates aiming to improve victims’ experiences of the criminal justice system, fundamentally changing the way police work handling these crimes.

Hope can be found in a week where institutional misogyny and failings with catastrophic outcomes have been laid bare. As the saying goes, let sunlight be the best disinfectant. At minimum, implement the recommendations that address the issues Angiolini’s sunlight illuminated and let us not shy away as a movement form our commitment to tackling all forms of institutional and individual discrimination. It’s no less than the British people deserve. 

 

If you enjoyed this blog, see Sara’s previous piece, The dire state of UK prisons puts us all in danger- what can Labour do?