Sarah Everard: an inquiry will look into whether any “red flags” were missed

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Lauren Geall
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A picture of Sarah Everard among flowers

The terms of an inquiry that will look into the circumstances which led to Sarah Everard’s murder have been published this week – but campaigners say the inquiry lacks the power to address wider institutional issues.

An independent inquiry into Sarah Everard’s murder is set to investigate whether any “red flags” were missed during her killer Wayne Couzens’ police career – but women’s groups have raised concerns over how effective such an investigation will be, given its non-statutory status.

The concerns come after a bid to elevate the investigation to a statutory inquiry – which would give those involved with the inquiry more powers, including the option to compel witnesses to attend or give evidence under oath – was blocked by peers in the House Of Lords in a vote which took place in the early hours of Tuesday morning (11 January).

Laying out the terms of the inquiry in a reference document published this week, Home Secretary Priti Patel said the inquiry’s non-statutory status would allow it greater flexibility, in a bid to give Everard’s family answers “as soon as possible”.  

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The two-part investigation – chaired by Dame Elish Angiolini QC – will look into Couzens’ conduct during his career and any abuse of his police powers, as well as whether any issues relating to his behaviour, particularly in relation to women, were known and raised by his colleagues. It will also assess his transfer between Kent Police and the Met.

The aim of the inquiry’s first phase – which is set to conclude by the end of this year – is to make recommendations for any immediate steps the police and other organisations need to take – and to inform the consideration of what further, broader issues for policing and the protection of women should be looked into during the inquiry’s second stage.

The reference document also highlights that Home Secretary Priti Patel has the option to convert the inquiry to a statutory inquiry if necessary, following advice from the Chair.  

Flowers laid at Clapham Common bandstand in memory of Sarah Everard
Sarah Everard was murder in March last year by then-serving Metropolitan police officer Wayne Couzens.

However, women’s groups say the non-statutory nature of the inquiry – as well its failure to look beyond Everard’s case and consider institutional issues – will put more women at risk.

“To prevent something like this happening again, which is the stated aim of the Home Secretary, this incident cannot be viewed in a vacuum,” Debaleena Dasgupta, a solicitor at the Centre for Women’s Justice, said in a statement

“The abduction, rape and murder of Sarah Everard was an extreme and horrific event, but sadly Couzens is not the only officer whose behaviour is a danger to women and where the conduct escalated.

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“As an organisation which examines police perpetrated abuse of women, we are aware of many cases of police officers abusing women and failures to take action to prevent such abuse and remove perpetrators from the police.” 

Dasgupta continued: “If the home secretary really wants to restore public confidence in policing, then the inquiry must also contain strands looking into others’ predatory behaviour.”

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and women’s issues. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time. You can find her on Twitter at @laurenjanegeall.