A day after the British police officer Wayne Couzens was sent to prison for the rest of his life for the false arrest, rape, and murder of 33-year-old marketing executive Sarah Everard, London’s Metropolitan Police force has provoked fury by suggesting that women who feel intimidated by a plain-clothes cop should flag down a passing bus for help.
The full horrifying details of the Everard murder in March only emerged this week during Couzens’ sentencing hearing. Prosecutors believe that the serving police officer presented his warrant card and handcuffed Everard under the pretense of enforcing COVID lockdown rules before bundling her into his car and driving her to the scene of her rape and murder.
It’s also been reported this week that he was known as “the Rapist” among colleagues for making women feel uncomfortable and that he shared misogynistic messages with fellow officers in a WhatsApp group. The cop was also linked to two previous allegations of indecent exposure.
The murder and this week’s new damning details have badly damaged public trust in the Metropolitan Police force in London—and its advice to women who now feel worried about being stopped by a plainclothes officer has been met with outrage for effectively amounting to victim-blaming.
In a Thursday statement, the force urged women to be much more skeptical of solo plainclothes officers, advising them to challenge cops about why they’re being stopped. The force also advises women to verify the police officer’s identity by demanding to hear their radio operator.
Then, if the woman still feels unsafe with the plainclothes officer after taking those initial steps, the force said they should think about “shouting out to a passerby, running into a house, knocking on a door, waving a bus down or, if you are in the position to do so, calling 999.”
“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,” the force said in its controversial statement.
However, many women have reacted with fury to the Met’s advice, saying it infers that Everard could have done more to prevent her false arrest, kidnap, rape, murder, and burning at the hands of Couzens.
Patsy Stephenson, who was arrested at a vigil for Everard in March, wrote on Twitter, “Telling us that we should scream and draw attention to ourselves, or call 999 to check, or wave down a bus, is like saying she could have stopped it. She couldn’t have. This was not down to her. We should be able to trust that a police officer is not going to murder us.”
One member of the British parliament, the Labour party’s Bell Ribeiro-Addy, wrote on Twitter, “This plays right into the vile culture of victim-shaming we so often see when women are assaulted. It’s not our job to keep ourselves safe when approached by the police, it’s the Met’s job to get its house in order & stop employing men who attack women.”
People pointed out that the advice missed the point—Couzens was a serving cop, so verifying his identity on the night of the murder would not have helped. One of the founders of feminist political group the Women’s Equality Party, Catherine Mayer, wrote, “Extraordinary advice to women from the Met Police, so many shades of wrong. Not least in that Wayne Couzens was who he said he was, a serving police officer.”
Another police boss was criticized Friday after appearing to suggest that Everard wasn’t “streetwise” enough when stopped by Couzens.
According to BBC News, North Yorkshire police commissioner Philip Allott said, “Women, first of all, need to be streetwise about when they can be arrested and when they can’t be arrested. She should never have been arrested and submitted to that... Perhaps women need to consider in terms of the legal process, to just learn a bit about that legal process.”
Lucy Arnold, from the women’s rights group Reclaim the Streets, described Allott’s comments as “horrifically offensive,” and asked, “Does anyone really feel like they can stand up to a police officer? I am very confident I know my rights, I know the law, but no I wouldn’t feel confident at all.”
Couzens, 48, was sentenced Thursday to a whole-life prison term.
Speaking at the Old Bailey courthouse after the sentencing, Dame Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, said “a precious bond of trust has been damaged” and she would make sure “lessons” were learned.