openDemocracyUK: Opinion

Sarah Everard’s murderer has been sentenced. Now, Cressida Dick must go

Everard’s murder by a police officer exposes the reality of a rotten institution with a culture of misogyny. Before we can fix it, Dick must resign

Marisa Bate
30 September 2021, 1.12pm
Met Police commissioner Cressida Dick must resign in the wake of Sarah Everard's murderer by one of her officers
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PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Like many, I followed with horror the devastating details emerging from the sentencing of Wayne Couzens, who has become the first police officer to receive a whole-life prison sentence, for the murder of Sarah Everard in London in March.

As I read of Sarah's impossibly cruel and terrifying final hours, a single thought drilled against the inside of my head: Cressida Dick, the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, for which Couzens was an officer, must resign. Yes, there are a million social, cultural and political things that also need to happen, but this has to happen first.

Cressida Dick must resign.

Of course, this isn’t the first time Dick’s resignation has been called for. Calls for her to step down came after the cover-up of Daniel Morgan’s death, issues of Stop and Search, and the outrageous handling of the Sarah Everard vigil. Most recently, an open letter from victims of police failings accused her of “presiding over a culture of incompetence and cover-ups”.

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Yet, despite this, and thanks to home secretary Priti Patel, Dick is now in the job until 2024.

That should have changed this week, when the public learned a Met Police officer – one who already had unchecked red flags against his name – issued a fake arrest in order to kidnap, rape and murder a woman.

Cressida Dick must resign.

Since 2009, at least 16 women have been killed by serving or former police officers in the UK

Wayne Couzens is not the story of a ‘bad ‘un’, as Dick recently said, her best attempt to gaslight a population incensed by a violent culture nobody ever seems to do anything about. Instead, Couzens is the reality of a rotten institution that has refused to take meaningful action to rid itself of a culture of violent and persistent misogyny, one that is covered up, time and time again.

Indeed, Couzens’ own troubling behaviour was overlooked. An obvious threat to women, he was at one point nicknamed ‘The Rapist’ by former colleagues at another police force. When Couzens was linked to allegations of a motorist driving naked from the waist down, Kent Police failed to investigate. There were allegations of indecent exposure just days before he committed murder. All of this was dismissed. If it hadn’t been, Sarah Everard would be alive.

Cressida Dick must resign.

This culture isn't one simply of incompetence and cover-ups. It’s one of perpetrators, too.

Over the past five years, UK police forces have received more than 800 allegations of domestic abuse against officers and staff. Just 43 – around 5% – were prosecuted. These figures almost certainly do not give a true portrayal of the scale. Many women don’t report domestic abuse to the police as it is. How are you meant to report when the abuser wears the badge of the protector?

Since 2009, at least 16 women have been killed by serving or former police officers in the UK. A Met Police officer, accused of rape by two of his female colleagues, was allowed to continue working for three years, unsuspended. A police officer recently resigned after, while off-duty, he attacked a woman walking alone at night, attempting to tackle her to the ground, entirely unprovoked.

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Unsurprisingly, the tolerance of this culture has knock-on effects. Three in four domestic abuse offences reported to the police in England and Wales are closed without charge. Sussex Police fined 19-year-old Shana Grice for wasting police time in 2016 when she repeatedly alleged that she was being stalked. Soon afterwards, Grice’s stalker broke into her home, slit her throat and attempted to burn her body. Be it cover-up or incompetence, the outcome is the same: dead women. An institution that fails to protect women from violence is, in many ways, an act of violence itself.

The tyranny is often worse for women of colour and immigrant women. Last summer, the Met Police allegedly failed to look for missing sisters Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry, who were discovered dead in a park by friends. Two police officers have since been charged with misconduct in a public office, after allegedly sharing photographs of their murdered bodies on WhatsApp. In 2020, Liberty and Southall Black Sisters successfully brought a super-complaint against the police for sharing domestic abuse victims’ data with the Home Office immigration enforcement. In the process of responding to male violence, the police made women even more unsafe, leaving them vulnerable to potential deportation. The multiple levels of threat from what is meant to be a source of safety are hard to comprehend.

And this is precisely what has thrown women into a darkness, a rage, a despair. We pay a heavy tax just for existing in this world: one that involves looking over your shoulder at night, clenching keys between fingers, and telling friends to ‘text me when you get home’ – the unspoken inference, of course, being ‘in case you don’t’, just as Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa, a schoolteacher murdered in a London park earlier this month, didn’t.

Like streetlights and rape alarms, the police are a flimsy, short-term fix to a problem with deep roots

Women’s safety is an albatross forced upon us by a society that won’t accept the proliferation of male violence. Like streetlights and rape alarms, the police are an often flimsy, short-term fix to a problem with deeply entrenched roots, which effects and costs millions, yet is permanently deprioritised. In many ways, we shouldn’t be so surprised at this wicked deceit. But we are. And we are because we need to believe certain things in order to have the freedom to live. Believing a police officer won’t kidnap, rape and murder you is one of them. If we can’t believe that, what’s left? “Where,” one desperate tweeter pleaded, “do we go from here?”.

Couzens’ actions were the most monstrous reality of police using its power to abuse, and to cover up that abuse. He arrested and handcuffed an innocent woman in order to rape and murder her. But he wasn’t arrested when he was accused of sexual harassment offences. He wasn’t reported when he gained the nickname ‘The Rapist’. Former colleagues knew he had an interest in “violent pornography” and an “incident” was reported in 2002, but he wasn’t fired. To say it is the stuff of nightmares undermines the utter horror and the extremity of what happened, but the crime has its roots in a culture women face every single day.

The police are not an island. The government has responded misguidedly to the murder of Sarah Everard and the subsequent calls for action, pointlessly offering more street lighting while overlooking vital amendments to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill called for by the domestic abuse commissioner to help invest in preventative measures against male violence. In these troubling times, shortly after the murder of Sabina Nessa, we don’t need rape alarms, we need leadership. And we have none.

We need someone who takes a zero-tolerance approach. Dick has proved she can’t and won’t

Since 2017, Cressida Dick has been the most senior police officer in the country. A radical overhaul is needed, led by someone truly committed to fighting male violence, someone who understands its root causes, understands how abusers operate, knows how to join dots, and someone who takes a zero-tolerance approach. Dick has proved she can’t and won’t. We desperately need someone who will. We desperately need accountability.

At the very least, we need, and Sarah Everard deserves, to recognise that this is not an isolated incident. Male violence against women is in the fabric of our society and it needs ripping out. Women are being murdered by the very people meant to protect us. How many more times must we sound the alarm?

Cressida Dick must resign.

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