Wayne Couzens wasn’t just a bad apple – he was a maggot feeding at the Met’s rotten core
Does anybody remember when we used to talk about a “reassuring police presence”? When the theme tune of The Bill was the sound of safety? When there were local bobbies on the beat, who would stroll up and down the streets in pairs, the crest of their helmets signifying that all would be well? I used to bemoan the lack of visible community policemen, but I think I’m now relieved to be unlikely to come across any as I go about my day to day business. For after reading Baroness Casey’s report, the sight of a police officer is more likely to strike fear into the average woman’s heart than reassure her – certainly in London, where one officer told the review that the detection rate for rape is so low “you may as well say it is legal”.
To read the independent report into the standards of behaviour and internal culture of the Metropolitan Police is to despair. Over 363 gruesome pages, we learn the kind of grim details of misogyny, racism and homophobia that on social media would require a trigger warning. Someone kept their lunch in a sexual offence unit’s evidence fridge. When another chiller broke down during last year’s heatwave, every single one of the rape cases relating to samples in that fridge had to be dropped. A female officer was repeatedly raped by a colleague, and forced to work alongside him. Another policewoman who made a complaint of sexual assault was called a “trouble-maker”. Sex toys were left in coffee mugs, bags of urine thrown at cars, and on one training desk, the men held competitions to see how often they could make their female students cry. A Muslim officer had bacon put in his shoe, a black officer was referred to with a racist slur and one openly gay officer was the victim of a “sustained campaign of homophobia”.
The review was launched after the rape and murder of Sarah Everard by a serving police officer, Wayne Couzens. Two days before Couzens used his badge to abduct Everard from the street, he had flashed female staff at a McDonald’s. Police were given his description and car registration, and yet by the time they bothered to investigate the crime, Everard was dead.
You would think that such heinous behaviour might make the Met stop and reflect. It was, as Baroness Casey points out in the report, the equivalent of a plane falling out of the sky for the aviation industry. And yet when her team visited officers, sexism was so entrenched that they didn’t even attempt to hide it. Casey’s team observed women being spoken over and having their views dismissed. Officers were urged to delete WhatsApps, with the special codeword LANDSLIDE being used to warn colleagues when they needed to scrub messages from their phones. The priority was not in changing the misogynistic culture of the Met, but protecting those who were part of it.
For a long time now, the police have dealt with these issues by playing the victims themselves. They are cash-strapped, resource-poor, casualties of austerity. This is why bad apples such as Wayne Couzens slipped through the net. Except, as the Casey report shows, we now know this is not the case at all. Along with his colleague, the serial rapist David Carrick, we see that Couzens was merely a maggot feeding off an institution that is absolutely rotten to its core.
In all the detail of Baroness Casey’s report, perhaps the most damning is her finding that, while the Met claims violence against women and children is a priority, “it has been treated differently from ‘serious violence’.” Departments dealing with domestic abuse and sexual offences are severely under-resourced compared with others. They have “unmanageable caseloads” and a burnout rate worse than front-line medical staff during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The report lays out a cold, hard fact, one that must be almost unbearable for the family of Sarah Everard, and for the victims of David Carrick: many in the Met are only interested in looking after themselves, and not the general public. That they have been able to get away with this for so long shows an arrogance that is jaw-dropping in its scale.
The Casey report is hardly the first time the Met has had its failings pointed out – it’s not even the first time this year. But how incredible that, as well as insulting victims such as Everard, the Met are still managing to cause pain to the family of Stephen Lawrence, who died 30 years ago. It is almost a quarter of a century since the inquiry into that case found the Met “institutionally racist”, and yet seemingly nothing has changed. Black communities are still “over-policed and under-protected”, according to the report, which makes particularly terrifying reading.
And yet it is about time we stopped seeing this as an issue of race and sex, and started seeing it as an issue for all of us. The words of Reverend Mina Smallman, quoted extensively in the report, make this abundantly clear. Smallman’s daughters, Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry, were murdered in a park during the pandemic. Afterwards, police who were supposed to be guarding the dead women instead shared photographs of their bodies. “What we can’t have is that the only reason that people who corrupt the police are taken in hand is [because of] the tenacity of the women and the families they abused,” Smallman told Casey. “The windows that we’ve been able to open into this institution have not come about because of the police’s desire to change. It’s come about on the backs and the tenacity of people of colour and women, and that’s not the way we’re going to effect real change. If you’re constantly trying to cover up the cracks then you’re never going to address anything.”
We have had enough of empty apologies and hollow promises to change. If the Met is not seriously reformed now, it will be completely criminal.