October 1, 2021
Bus drivers could end up being arrested if they stop to help women following Scotland Yard advice to ‘hail’ them if they are frightened by a police officer after the murder of Sarah Everard by Wayne Couzens, a leading legal expert warned today.
Lawyer and commentator David Green has warned the ‘unrealistic and misconceived’ new guidance by the Met Police could cause chaos and in extreme cases see women Tasered for resisting arrest.
Scotland Yard was today accused of pouring scorn on frightened women after the force’s new ‘deeply insulting’ and ‘derisory’ strategy urged them to ‘wave down a bus’ if they fear being abducted by police.
Its ‘tone deaf’ advice also urges women to ‘run into a house’, ‘shout out to a passer-by’ or call 999 if they don’t trust a policeman who has stopped them.
Mr Green said: ‘Imagine the scenes of a person challenging what may be a lawful arrest by stopping a bus and getting the bus driver involved.
‘It would probably end up with the hapless bus driver being arrested as well.
‘One gets the sense that the writer of this police statement had, by the end of it, ran out of ideas and was winging it like an unprepared student in the last half-hour of an examination.
‘But even the other advice in the statement is unrealistic and misconceived. Anyone challenging arrest can say hello to the offence of resisting or wilfully obstructing a constable in the execution of their duty. They may also say hello to Mr Taser.’
The Met’s advise to flag down a bus has caused particular anger and MPs today called for an independent inquiry into the murder of Sarah Everard and how the Metropolitan Police failed to root out Wayne Couzens – a serving armed officer who would go on to abduct and kill the marketing executive using his warrant card and cuffs.
The inquiry would look at Sarah’s murder and Couzens use of his powers to kidnap her – but also cases involving police officers and staff who attacked women as well as the 10 murders of women in capital in the past year including Sabina Nessa in Kidbrooke a fortnight ago and sisters Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry in last year. Officers guarding the crime scene shared selfies with their bodies.
Today former Met Commissioner Lord Stevens said there had been ‘extraordinary blunders’ in the run up to Sarah’s murder and the forces’ vetting system is not ‘fit for purpose’ because he slipped through the net and went go on to commit the appalling crimes.
He said: ‘The fact that this individual in 2015 was seen to be driving around without any clothes on from his waist downwards, the fact he was called a rapist, the fact that he was a really strange individual, I mean there is no way that that man should have been given a gun. A proper vetting process, the vetting process is obviously not fit for the purpose and this needs all to be changed, it’s an extraordinary story of blunders and of that there’s no doubt’.
Jess Phillips, Labour’s shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding, said the advice is ‘tone deaf’, adding she ‘would have got in the car and almost anybody would have got in the car’ and ‘the onus is on the Metropolitan Police to do better’.
Shadow cabinet member Wes Streeting said: ‘Apparently bus drivers should stop if someone is waving them down in the street away from a bus stop, just in case, because that’s a better answer than the Met getting their act together?! Utterly woeful’.
As another crisis engulfed the Met, Policing minister Kit Malthouse admitted the case had struck a ‘devastating blow to the confidence that people have in police officers’, and he warned thousands of officers will need to do more so trust can be rebuilt.
Women in London have said that they would now run away if faced with a lone officer after Wayne Couzens staged an arrest using lockdown laws to abduct, rape and murder Sarah on March 3.
One said she would be ‘scared, frightened and try to get away from them because I wouldn’t trust any policeman again after what happened to Sarah’. Another said: ‘If it happened to me I’d be so worried I’d just get into my car and drive’.
As The Met and its Commissioner face yet another crisis, it also emerged today:
- The Met knew a ‘Wayne Couzens’ was suspected of flashing two women at McDonald’s three days before Sarah Everard‘s murder – but failed to identify him as one of their own officers until afterwards;
- Detectives from the Met Police are actively investigating if killer cop Wayne Couzens is connected to any further historic crimes;
- Couzens exchanged misogynistic, racist and homophobic texts with his police colleagues who are now facing a criminal investigation. 16 officers are being probed;
- Met chief Cressida Dick still faces a clamour to resign after she admitted Sarah Everard’s murder had corroded trust in the police and brought ‘shame’ on her force;
It came as Dame Cressida Dick came under more pressure to resign over the scandal – and to fix the force’s toxic culture – after it emerged Couzens exchanged misogynistic, racist and homophobic texts with his police colleagues.
Dame Cressida said yesterday she was ‘sorry’ and ‘sickened’ at how Couzens was able to abuse his position but refused to quit as female officers claimed they were afraid to report their male colleagues for misconduct because they ‘close ranks’ and could abandon them on calls where they would have their ‘heads kicked in’ while waiting for backup.
Since March 2020 when Sarah Everard, 33, was murdered by Met Police officer Wayne Couzens, 48, some 77 women have been killed, according to Rape Crisis. Two weeks ago, primary school teacher Sabina Nessa, 28, was found dead in a park also in south London, described in court as a ‘predatory’ murder.
Legal experts have predicted that bus drivers stopping for women could get arrested themselves.
As part if its new strategy, the Met has pledged to deploy 650 new officers and increase patrols to do more to protect women and girls in the wake of Sarah Everard’s murder by Couzens – but critics questioned why they weren’t doing that already.
And anyone stopped on the street is encouraged to call 999 or use the officer’s radio to confirm their warrant card is genuine – but many have pointed out that many not have stopped Couzens kidnapping Sarah because his warrant card and number was genuine.
Even Sir Stephen House, the Met’s deputy commissioner, admitted yesterday that warrant cards may not be enough for officers to prove their identity in future.
Patsy Stevenson, who was arrested at the vigil for Sarah Everard in March, said the Metropolitan Police’s suggestions of knocking on a door or waving a bus down were ‘almost laughable if it wasn’t so disgusting’.
The force advised anyone who is concerned a police officer is not acting legitimately during an interaction to ask where the officer’s colleagues are; where they have come from; why they are there; and exactly why they are stopping or talking to them.
Anyone could verify the police officer by asking to hear their radio operator or asking to speak to the radio operator themselves, the force said, also suggesting that people who are concerned can shout out to a passer-by, run into a house, knock on a door, wave a bus down, or call 999.
Ms Stevenson told the PA news agency: ‘I feel like they are just clutching at straws, because the advice isn’t relevant. It’s like a distraction because, number one, in that situation, you can’t just stop and hail down a bus or a taxi or something.
‘Can you imagine the distrust that people have right now where they have to protect themselves from the police in that manner? That is shocking.’
She said if someone had done something illegal it is the police giving them permission to run off, adding: ‘It doesn’t make any sense. It’s like an irrelevant piece of advice. So I feel like it reads more like a distraction for them to seem like they’re dealing with the issue, because they could have been enacting change for ages now, but they haven’t, and they’re still not doing it, they’re just putting out a statement to quieten people down.’
The chairman of the Commons Justice Committee has said the Government should consider making misogyny a hate crime in the way that racism was following the Macpherson Inquiry into the killing of Stephen Lawrence.
Tory MP Sir Bob Neill told BBC Radio 4’s The World At One: ‘One of the things that was good after Macpherson was that it was recognised in due course that racism ought to be regarded as a particularly aggravating feature.
‘We have made racially motivated offences a hate crime. I think there is a case now for looking at misogyny.’
Women have said that the new advice piles more pressure on them – rather than tackling violent men – with some saying that it ‘grossly insulting’ with the Met accused of releasing a guide to ‘what they believe Sarah should have done’.
Comedian Sooz Kempner said: ‘It’s deeply insulting to Sarah’s memory, her family and to women everywhere to now have ‘in future, ladies, here’s what you can do that Sarah failed to do to’ spouted at us when taking some form of action against the man nicknamed ‘the rapist’ by colleagues was always an option’.
She added: ‘Waving down a bus when you’re not even at a bus stop is a complete impossibility anyway, they don’t stop, you’d be lucky to get a second glance from the driver. And I dunno if you’ve heard but buses aren’t just constantly driving down every single road 24/7’.
Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy said: ‘We want to know what the Met are doing to address the deeply rooted problems with violence against women within the force. This completely derisory advice shows they’re still not taking it seriously. And they wonder why trust is at an all-time low?’
Left-wing commentator Ash Sarkar said: ‘Wayne Couzens was nicknamed ‘The Rapist’, shared racist and misogynistic messages with colleagues, and committed indecent in a car registered to him 72 hours before murdering someone. But it’s Sarah Everard who should’ve waved down a bus’.
Writer Oriane Messina said: ‘Don’t go out alone at night. Don’t wear short dresses. Don’t trust an officer on his own. Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t draw attention to yourself. Don’t drink too much. Don’t be flashy. Don’t be too weak looking. HANG ON…. How about telling men don’t rape and murder women’.
Lord Justice Fulford said his decision to hand Couzens, 48, a whole-life tariff was significantly influenced by the way he had exploited his role as a police officer, a fact he said made the offence equal in seriousness to a murder carried out by a terrorist.
The force has announced that 650 new officers will be deployed in public places to better protect women and girls in the wake of Miss Everard’s murder.
After stinging criticism over its handling of the case, the force vowed to increase patrols and publish a new strategy for tackling violence against women.
The strategy will outline how the Met will prioritise action against sexual and violent predatory offenders.
The force said it had also set up ‘predatory offender units’, which have arrested more than 2,000 suspects for domestic abuse, sex offences, and child abuse since November.
The 650 new officers will be sent into busy public places, including areas where women and girls ‘lack confidence that they are safe’, the Met said. The force will ‘step up’ patrols and provide an increased police presence in areas identified as hotspot locations for violence and harassment.
A Met Police spokesman said: ‘The full horrific details of [Wayne Couzens’] crimes are deeply concerning and raise entirely legitimate questions. This is the most horrific of crimes, but we recognise this is part of a much bigger and troubling picture.’
The spokesman said other recent murders ‘bring into sharp focus our urgent duty to do more to protect women and girls’.
Charity Rape Crisis warned ‘women cannot keep themselves safe’ and blasted ‘a culture that trivialises and condones rape and sexual violence’ as well as saying the justice system was ‘systematically flawed’.
And it said women who ‘do not stick to the arbitary and ineffective rulebook’ deserved to be treated with respect as victims of crime and to enjoy the same freedoms as men – such as walking in a park at night.
It pointed to rape jokes going unchallenged, the expectation that men in the workplace behave decisively, the ‘entitled’ attitude of men who expect sexual interactions, and it suggested the murders of white women are given preferential treatment in the press.
Sandy Brindley, chief executive of Rape Crisis Scotland, wrote: ‘The visceral grief so many of us felt after the murder of Sarah Everard in March was real.
‘The horrific details that have emerged this week at the sentencing of her murderer – not even two weeks after the tragic death of Sabina Nessa – have compounded this pain and brought into sharp reality that the fear we are raised to feel, though far from healthy, is legitimate.
‘From an early age, we teach girls and women that our safety in public spaces is not something that we can or should count on, and it is our responsibility to keep ourselves safe from an ever-present threat.
‘We are spoon-fed ‘solutions’ of holding keys between our fingers and sticking to the lit side of the path.
‘We rarely stop to consider that, in telling girls and women we can prevent violence, what we are really doing is falsely telling those who experience such harm that they could or should have done something differently’.
What ARE your rights if a cop stops you on the street? Ex-police chief explains key questions and actions you can take if an undercover officer tries to arrest you
Can you ever be stopped by a lone police officer in plain clothes?
Scotland Yard said in a statement that it is ‘unusual for a single plain clothes police officer to engage with anyone in London’, although it can happen.
They said that an lone officer could be seeking to arrest you, but if they do then you should ‘expect to see other officers arrive shortly afterwards’.
As of yesterday the Metropolitan Police announced they would not deploy plain clothes officers on their own.
Deputy Commissioner Sir Stephen House said: ‘We will not operate plain clothes officers on their own. If we do use them, they will be in pairs.’
However he said there will be ‘occasions’ where that is not possible – such as when a pair of officers are split up – and noted that off-duty officers not in uniform.
Why would you be stopped by a lone police officer?
Police only have the power to stop someone if they have reasonable grounds that you have committed a crime.
The only other time they can is if they think you might be carrying a weapon or doing anti-social behaviour.
If they do think this and they ask for your address and details, you have to answer and if you fail to do this, it could be considered a criminal offence in itself.
What should you do if no police backup arrives?
You would expect a lone police officer who is arresting you to soon be joined by backup, although it is possible that this might not happen and you are still alone.
Scotland Yard said in this case that it was ‘entirely reasonable for you to seek further reassurance of that officer’s identity and intentions’.
The Met said it advises people to ‘ask some very searching questions of that officer’, including:
- ‘Where are your colleagues?’
- ‘Where have you come from?’
- ‘Why are you here?’
- ‘Exactly why are you stopping or talking to me?’
Former Scotland Yard senior officer Parm Sandhu told ITV’s Good Morning Britain that there were things people could do if they were concerned about an arrest.
She said that people should not get into the vehicle unless it’s a marked police vehicle and ask to see the radio, or ask the arresting officer to call their colleagues and make sure they are on duty. She added: ‘If you’re really concerned dial 999.’
What if you are still suspicious of the officer after questioning them?
Scotland Yard urges people to ‘seek some independent verification of what they say’.
They advise that if the police officer has a radio, ‘ask to hear the voice of the operator, even ask to speak through the radio to the operator to say who you are and for them to verify you are with a genuine officer, acting legitimately’.
Won’t officers become annoyed if you keep asking them questions?
Scotland Yard said: ‘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.’
What if you still feel in danger?
The Metropolitan Police said gave a series of tips for people who feel in ‘real and imminent danger and you do not believe the officer is who they say they are’.
They said it was important to ‘seek assistance’, giving the examples of ‘shouting out to a passer-by, running into a house, knocking on a door, waving a bus down or if you are in the position to do so calling 999’.
What is a ‘stop’ and how is it different to a ‘stop and search’?
A ‘stop’ occurs when an officer stops and asks you questions, but this is not an official stop and search and you can leave at any moment.
An individual is free to ask whether they are being detained to ascertain if it is a stop and search rather than a ‘stop and account’. If you are not being detained, you are free to leave and are not required to give your name and address.
On what grounds can an officer search you?
If an officer has reasonable ground to believe you were involve in a crime or possess a prohibited item, they can search you.
This can only be carried out by an officer and they can only search your outer clothing.
If they are not in uniform, they should show their identity card and you are not required to give your name and address.
If you try to resist the search, an officer can use ‘reasonable force’ and can also arrest you.
Before the search, police should tell you their name, their police station, what they are searching for and the fact you are entitled to a copy of the search record.
What about if you are suspected of carrying drugs?
If an officer believes you are in possession of a controlled drug, they must tell you the law they are searching you under and the reasons for the search.
The smell of cannabis does not meet the requirements for a stop, according to the College of Policing’s authorised professional practice, but it is not legislated.
When can police search you without suspecting criminality?
Police can carry out a search without suspicion of criminality when they are carried out under ‘non reasonable suspicion’ powers granted to an officer of at least superintendent rank.
These give police the power to carry out stop and searches without suspicion because of an increased fear of violence in an area.
These are known as Section 60 searches and can only be applied for a maximum of 48 hours.
During a search, an officer can only ask you to remove outer clothing when in public, such as a jacket, coat or gloves.
They can also put their hand in your shoes, socks and headgear and ask you to turn out your pockets.
When can an officer perform a strip search?
A strip search can take place inside a van or somewhere not in public such as a police tent.
It must be carried out by an officer of the same sex without an officer of the opposite sex in view, and for those aged under 17, it can only take place in the presence of an appropriate adult.
The officer must give an extra reason for the additional search, and that cannot be that nothing was found in the prior search.
Police must fill out a form giving the reasons for a stop and search and give you a copy unless it is not possible.
If you believe it is an unlawful search or the officer was inappropriate, you should let them continue and obtain a copy of the search form, before making a complaint.
Wayne Couzens exchanged misogynistic, racist and homophobic texts with his police colleagues who are now facing a criminal investigation, it has been claimed.
Five serving officers, three of whom work for the Metropolitan Police, and one former officer, allegedly shared horrific content with Sarah Everard’s killer on a WhatsApp group in the months before the murder.
After his arrest in March, detectives found the ‘vile’ texts on his phone which the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IOPC) said were of a ‘discriminatory and/or inappropriate nature’.
Aside from the three serving officers working for the Met, one under investigation is from the Civil Nuclear Constabulary and another works for Norfolk Constabulary, according to The Times.
The former officer in the group also previously worked for the Met, whose chief Dame Cressida Dick is yet again facing calls to resign.
When Sue Fish, a former chief constable of Nottinghamshire, was asked on Times Radio if she believed the police force was institutionally misogynistic, she replied: ‘Yes, I do. And that’s not just the Metropolitan Police, that’s policing, structurally, across the country.’
The IOPC said in a statement: ‘They are being investigated for gross misconduct for allegedly sending messages of a discriminatory and/or inappropriate nature, and for allegedly failing to challenge the messages sent by the others.
‘Two of the MPS officers and the former MPS officer have also been notified that they are being criminally investigated for improper use of the public electronic communications network under Section 127 of the Communications Act.
‘Criminal or gross misconduct investigations do not necessarily mean that charges or disciplinary proceedings will follow.’
The police watchdog is investigating the conduct of a total of 15 officers and a former officer linked to the Ms Everard case.
Asked earlier whether Couzens was a ‘bad apple’ in the police or an extreme example of an institutional problem, Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Nick Ephgrave said: ‘I’m wrestling with that myself.’
Others under investigation by the IOPC include a Scotland Yard probationer on the cordon at the scene where her body was discovered.
He is alleged to have sent a shocking WhatsApp message showing how a policeman could abduct and kill a woman as a joke.
Two other constables on probation are also being investigated by the Independent Office for Police Conduct over allegations they shared the graphic and failed to challenge it.
Another inquiry is underway separately into Police Federation members accused of breaching standards of professional behaviour by sharing information linked to the case on a secure messaging app.
The IOPC has said it will seek to conclude the investigations ‘as swiftly as possible’.
Meanwhile, it has emerged that 771 Met officers and staff have faced sexual misconduct allegations since 2010, with at least 44 convicted of sexual offences.
Freedom of Information figures reveal that 163 were arrested and 83 were sacked without notice.
Of those arrested, 78 were charged and 44 convicted.
At least 18 were jailed and nine were given suspended jail sentences.
The allegations included rape, sexual harassment, sexual assault and abusing a position of power for sex.
Some 89 per cent of officers and staff members who faced an internal investigation over complaints were male. Formal action was taken in 156 cases.
As well as the sackings, 46 people retired or resigned once the complaint against them was upheld.
Of the sexual misconduct claims, it was found that there was no case to answer or the allegation was unsubstantiated on 446 occasions.
The force is Britain’s largest, with 43,000 officers and staff.
It has 25 per cent of the total police budget for England and Wales.
A Scotland Yard spokesman said last night: ‘We take any police-perpetrated abuse incidents extremely seriously and they are regularly scrutinised at a senior level.
‘Any allegation, disclosure or conviction of sexual harassment or abuse perpetrated by an officer or member of staff is robustly investigated.’
He stressed: ‘Tackling sexual offences is a priority for the Met – and that includes when our own officers or staff are accused of offences.
‘The Met will not hesitate to bring forward prosecutions and disciplinary procedures where there is evidence to do so.’
Police forces across the country will have to work ‘much harder’ to win back public trust after the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met officer, a minister has said.
Policing minister Kit Malthouse said the case had struck a ‘devastating blow to the confidence that people have in police officers’, and he warned thousands of officers will need to do more so trust can be rebuilt.
Wayne Couzens was handed a whole life sentence on Thursday for the kidnap, rape and murder of the 33-year-old marketing executive, meaning he will never be freed from jail.
The Met has vowed to make the streets safer for women and girls as it said it is investigating whether Couzens committed more crimes before killing Ms Everard.
The force said it will no longer deploy plain clothes officers on their own after the Old Bailey heard Couzens had used lockdown rules and shown his warrant card to falsely arrest Ms Everard during the abduction.
The force advised anyone who is concerned a police officer is not acting legitimately during an interaction to ask where the officer’s colleagues are; where they have come from; why they are there; and exactly why they are stopping or talking to them.
Anyone could verify the police officer by asking to hear their radio operator or asking to speak to the radio operator themselves, the force said, also suggesting suggested people who are concerned can shout out to a passer-by, run into a house, knock on a door, wave a bus down, or call 999.
It plans to send 650 new officers into busy public places and promised to ‘step up’ patrols in areas identified as ‘hotspot’ locations for violence and harassment.
Speaking on Sky News on Friday, Mr Malthouse said: ‘They recognise that this has struck a devastating blow to the confidence that people have in police officers but also in the Met Police in particular.
‘For those thousands and thousands of police officers out there who will have to work harder – much harder – to win public trust, it is a very, very difficult time.’
Mr Malthouse said there are important lessons to learn from what happened.
‘My job is effectively to help the Home Secretary hold the police to account about what went wrong, how this monster slipped through the net to become a police officer, how we can make sure it doesn’t happen again,’ he said.
But he joined several other politicians and policing figures in rejecting mounting calls for Met Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick to resign, adding: ‘She is a dedicated and talented and committed police officer who is driving the Metropolitan Police to ever greater standards of care and improvement and fighting crime.’
The Met is facing questions as to how Couzens was able to get a job with the force despite allegations made against him earlier in his career – prompting a wider debate over whether police vetting rules are strict enough.
Mr Malthouse told BBC Breakfast: ‘One of the lessons that we will need to learn is the allegations that were made against him – where those investigations led to, why they did not pop up on his vetting or have any impact in his employment with the Metropolitan Police.
‘That is currently under investigation.’