Home Society & Culture New BBC Documentary Sheds Light on Violence Against Women and Police Misconduct in the Sarah Everard Case

New BBC Documentary Sheds Light on Violence Against Women and Police Misconduct in the Sarah Everard Case

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This month, a new documentary began on the BBC highlighting the extent of violence against women: Sarah Everard: The Search for Justice. 

The well-known case of Sarah Everard, who was abducted, raped and murdered by then-serving police officer Wayne Couzens, sent shockwaves throughout the nation. 

Three years on, there is a serious lack of public faith in the police force, and rightfully so. The police have come under scrutiny for hiring and retaining known perpetrators.  

It has recently been revealed that since Ms. Everard’s passing, dozens of police officers have been convicted of crimes of a similar nature.

Recent figures showing the growing number of police officers convicted specify that 10 have been convicted of rape or attempted rape, four were convicted of sexual assault against children, and 13 were convicted of possession or making of indecent images. Sadly, this number is seen as merely “scratching the surface”, as the Metropolitan Police did not submit their conviction values into the data pool.

No doubt the nation is asking one main question: how are sexual assault and rape able to be committed by the very people who are supposed to protect us, namely police officers and other authority figures? 

First and foremost, the case of Sarah Everard demonstrated once again, that there needs to be a radical overhaul of the vetting system; a system that allowed Ms Everard’s murderer to be recruited as and remain a police officer is clearly not fit for purpose.

There is surprisingly no national recruiting and vetting standard that police forces must adhere to. There is a code of practice and guidance designed to encourage consistency, but this is not a legal requirement. Of equal importance, there is again no legal requirement to adhere to a minimum standard when it comes to renewed vetting. This failure helps to explain why offenders get recruited and retained, which undermines confidence and trust in the police, and causes immense harm, of course, to the victims.

The lack of a minimum legal standard has meant that officers have passed vetting despite having allegations against them or convictions. The HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, when it investigated, found applicants were sometimes given the benefit of the doubt, and too much weight was put on the age of the convictions. Herein lies the problem because value judgements are being made in the absence of objectivity.

Serving as a police officer is, of course, a privilege but with this role comes responsibility and, inevitably, the stresses and strains of dealing with crime. For a young officer, that may be seen as character building but we should recognise the potential for detrimental effect, and that is why on-going monitoring and vetting are needed. People change over time, and so officers should be routinely re-vetted. 

The way ahead means that no-one should be recruited with a criminal record, and an officer who commits an offence should leave his/her force. Likewise, all allegations should be automatically investigated and analysed to a conclusion, and that would encompass examining social media histories and the like. 

Only by having a zero-tolerance legal threshold will the risk of recruiting “bad apples” be minimised.

Sadly, violence against girls and women is continuing to increase, made worse by a cultural shift that is allowing for these worst types of crime. For example, it seems that through social media, generally acceptable behaviour is fraying at the edges.

Alan Collins is a partner in the sex abuse team at Hugh James law firm.

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