Police have amended their original guidance after facing ridicule for the advice they gave to women for if they don’t trust a male officer, without formally addressing the changes.
After the rape, kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard by police officer Wayne Couzens, who was later sentenced to life in prison, the Metropolitan Police released advice to women to prevent abduction, telling them to ‘wave down a bus’.
The advice has since been deleted from the Met’s website, and they did not comment on whether it was still their leading advice for women who feel unsafe and at risk.
The Met have since been called out for the guidance, and were questioned over whether it would have even made any difference in the case of Sarah Everard‘s kidnapping, with many concluding that it would not.
Everard was reported missing on March 3 after she failed to return home after dinner with a friend. She was last seen in Clapham, south London and reported days after by her boyfriend.
Couzens was arrested on March 9, when the body of the 33-year-old was found 30 miles from his home in Kent. He pleaded guilty to her rape, kidnap and murder, after she was formally identified through her dental records.
Couzens had been a serving police officer at the time of the murder, only being fired by the Met on July 16. According to the prosecutor on the case, Tom Little QC, Couzens ‘arrested’ Everard, using lockdown regulations to get her inside his car and showed her a warrant card to aid the ‘planned’ attack.
After Couzens’ sentencing, the Met laid out advice for women in relation to if they were to encounter a police officer. In the press release, it offered ways in which to check the true identity of someone claiming to be a plain clothes officer, and whether they truly are or not, Metro reports.
The advice was later posted on a section of its webpage, giving advice to women ranging from checking ‘if [the person claiming to be a police officer] have a radio [to] ask to hear the voice of the operator’, to ‘shouting out to a passer-by’, or even calling ‘999’.
However, the advice has been considerably adapted from when it first surfaced on the page. According to Metro, when first released, it also included the suggestions of ‘running into a house, knocking on a door’ or ‘waving a bus down’.
An attendee of the Clapham Common vigil for Everard, Patsy Stevenson, criticised the Met for not being open about changing their advice. Stevenson was forcibly arrested at the peaceful memorial and is subsequently taking legal action against the Met.
This is literally what the Met do, they realise they have done something wrong and try to cover it up and push it to one side instead of admitting fault.
This shows yet again lack of accountability. They need to address these failings to the public when they happen and tell us how they are going to regain our trust, rather than ignore it and hope it goes away.
Despite the content of the advice having been altered, five days after it was first issued, Commissioner Cressida Dick defended the guidance in public on September 30. She stated on October 5 that she viewed it had been ‘rather taken out of context’.
Dick countered the criticism by acknowledging that a ‘lone woman being approached by a man in plain clothes’ may be concerned about ‘reporting to a police officer’ and claimed that her and her ‘male officer, understand that absolutely’.
However, she concluded that the likelihood of a woman meeting a ‘single, plain clothes officer’ was ‘rare’ and while she couldn’t ‘rule it out’, alleged that ‘the officer will be sensitive to the fact that the person may be concerned’.
A spokesperson for the Met stated that the update to the advice was the ‘latest’, rather than the initial guidance that featured the instruction to wave down a bus.
An independent inquiry has been ordered by Home Secretary Priti Patel into why Couzens was allowed to serve as a police officer. It also hopes to uncover ‘systematic failures’ and interrogate wider problems in relation to the British police force.
The inquiry follows the news of another police officer from the same unit as Couzens having been charged with raping a woman in September last year.
A new 888 number for a ‘walk me home’ service has since been proposed by BT Chief Executive Philip Jansen to support women in the wake of Everard’s murder.
If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article and wish to speak to someone in confidence, contact the Rape Crisis England and Wales helpline on 0808 802 9999 between 12pm–2.30pm and 7pm– 9.30pm every day. Alternatively, you can contact Victim Support free on 08 08 16 89 111 available 24/7, every day of the year, including Christmas.
Male Survivors Partnership is available to support adult male survivors of sexual abuse and rape. You can contact the organisation on their website or on their free helpline 0808 800 5005, open 9am–5pm Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays; 8am–8pm Tuesdays and Thursdays; 10am–2pm Saturdays.
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