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Serial failings allowed UK police officer to commit rape and murder, inquiry concludes

file photo: british pm sunak visits north wales, in valley
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak

A public inquiry into a British police officer whose rape and murder of a woman horrified the nation concluded on Thursday that without a sweeping overhaul of failed vetting procedures, there was nothing to stop another similar case arising.

Wayne Couzens, 51, whose job was to guard diplomatic premises in London, is serving a full life sentence in jail after being convicted of the 2021 rape and murder of Sarah Everard, whom he abducted from a London street using his police credentials to force her into his car.

He subsequently pleaded guilty to three unrelated charges of exposing himself. In total the inquiry found eight such offences had been reported, but not acted upon, prior to the killing of Everard, a 33-year-old marketing executive.

Elish Angiolini, who headed the inquiry, said serial failings in the vetting and investigations of Couzens meant that red flags were repeatedly missed, but he “could and should” have been stopped.

“Wayne Couzens was never fit to be a police officer,” Angiolini said. “And without a significant overhaul, there is nothing to stop another Couzens operating in plain sight.”

After Couzens’ crimes came to light, Mark Rowley, the head of the London’s Metropolitan Police (MPS), began a major purge of his force.

Since then further serving officers have been convicted of serious sexual offences, including one who carried out 24 rapes. A report last year concluded the MPS was institutionally racist, misogynistic and homophobic.

“The scale of the change that is needed inevitably means it will take time,” Rowley said on Thursday in response to the inquiry’s findings.

‘CLEAN-UP’

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called Couzens’ case a “chilling, abominable crime that shook the country to its very core.”

“I am sickened by the details that have come to light today and the Police must urgently make changes to earn that trust back. No woman should ever feel unsafe on our streets,” he said in a statement.

The Home Office, the ministry responsible for policing, said it planned to make it easier to sack officers who failed to pass basic vetting and those guilty of gross misconduct. It said “a root and stem clean-up” of the police was underway.

Angiolini said there was evidence that Couzens may have committed a serious assault against a minor before he became an officer, and that he had a preference for violent pornography.

Couzens managed to join Kent Police, in southeast England, as a volunteer constable despite having failed an interview and vetting process. Kent Police later failed to investigate a report of an indecent assault despite the witness identifying Couzens’ car.

Days before he murdered Everard, Couzens was reported for exposing himself at a drive-through but was only interviewed about this after his conviction.

“Given the known under-reporting of sexual offences, I believe there may be even more victims of Couzens’ offending,” Angiolini said.

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