Government burying its head in the sand over Everard inquiry

The chairwoman of the Home Affairs Select Committee says she fears the Government is “burying its head in the sand” over violence against women and girls after Boris Johnson ruled out a public inquiry into Sarah Everard’s death.

Yvette Cooper is calling for an independent investigation into the vetting process used by the Metropolitan Police when recruiting officers.

It comes after the Prime Minister said investigations by the Met and police watchdog the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) should be allowed to proceed and rejected calls for an immediate public inquiry.

The Prime Minister has to stop the denial of this about quite how serious it is and actually set out an independent inquiry into this case

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, she said: “Sarah Everard was murdered by someone she should have been able to trust, who abused his power as a police officer.

“We do need a proper, independent inquiry into how that could happen, how such a dangerous man could serve as a police officer for so long, why earlier problems weren’t investigated, how he could be cleared to use firearms, but also more widely into the scale of failings in vetting and safeguarding, in culture and in attitudes to violence against women and girls within policing.

“Where there have been serious crimes in the past that raise similar questions about abuse of power or trust in a major institution, like, for example, the Shipman murders, the (Jimmy) Savile abuse or the murder of Steven Lawrence, we have had independent inquiries to get to the truth and set out major reform.

“I’m really worried that the Government is just burying their heads in the sand. The Prime Minister has to stop the denial of this about quite how serious it is and actually set out an independent inquiry into this case.”

Mr Johnson told BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday that the Government “needs to look systemically at not just the Wayne Couzens case but the whole handling of rape, domestic violence, sexual violence and female complaints about harassment all together”.

Ms Cooper said the IOPC is “investigating specific incidences of misconduct by police officers that have been referred to them mainly by the Met Police”, and while that “must take its course” it is “not looking at the whole picture, it isn’t covering the whole vetting process”.

She added: “The Met have said that they’ve looked at the vetting and there was nothing that would have changed their decision about this dangerous man. Well, why wasn’t there?

“Let’s have someone have an independent look at this and see whether the entire vetting process was a problem and just isn’t probing into attitudes towards violence against women and girls.”

In a statement on its website, the IOPC outlined its investigations into the force after the whole life sentence handed to Couzens last week.

They include allegations that a probationary constable shared an “inappropriate graphic, depicting violence against women” with colleagues on WhatsApp, and analysis of the conduct of five officers from three forces and one former officer who allegedly sent discriminatory messages in 2019.

Two further investigations have also been undertaken and concluded.

In a statement following Couzens’ sentencing, the Met said: “Vetting is a snapshot in time and, unfortunately, can never 100% guarantee an individual’s integrity.

“Vetting is one of a number of activities that we undertake to preserve the integrity of our organisation and it is only as good as the day on which it is carried out.”

It added that officers are re-vetted periodically, there is a confidential number and a directorate of professional standards to report officers’ wrongdoings, and internal and external inspections take place to scrutinise the force’s processes.

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