By David Young-
The IOPC has said it is vital police are made aware early on when their officers are suspected of offences.
While this may not have prevented former PC Wayne Couzens from committing his crimes, it could help prevent it from happening again in the future, says the IOPC.
It said it will be talking to the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) about the issue this week.
Local recommendations have already been made by the IOPC to the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) to consider developing a system automatically flagging when an officer is under criminal investigation, and also to improve the initial investigation of sexual offences.
“The recommendations stem from our investigations into the Met’s handling of two allegations of indecent exposure at McDonald’s restaurant in Swanley in February 2021, and Kent Police’s handling of an alleged indecent exposure at Dover in June 2015,” said the IOPC.
“The allegations were all linked to Couzens’ vehicle at the time. In the Met’s case they were informed just three days before he kidnapped, raped and murdered Sarah Everard, and he subsequently pleaded guilty to those offences.”
Following Tuesday’s (May 23) conclusion of all disciplinary proceedings in cases linked to Couzens, IOPC Director of Operations Amanda Rowe said: “Wayne Couzens’ horrific crimes appalled the nation, sent shockwaves through the policing world and deeply impacted on trust and confidence in the police service, particularly from women.
“Our investigations into the Met and Kent Police’s handling of the indecent exposure allegations highlighted there is no system in place to alert forces when a police officer becomes a crime suspect.
“We believe this needs to change. It may not have prevented Couzens from committing his crimes, but if it is combined with the change in culture that policing recognises is necessary, it could help prevent it from happening again in the future. That’s why we’ll be exploring this possibility of this with the NPCC later this week.
“We have also been working closely with the Angiolini Inquiry, sharing evidence to inform its work looking at cultural issues within policing and addressing the broader concerns around women’s safety in public highlighted by Sarah Everard’s death.
“Our sympathies remain with Sarah’s family for the heartbreak and anguish they have endured. We have discussed our reports and findings with them.”
A disciplinary hearing that concluded on Tuesday found gross misconduct proven against former MPS constable Samantha Lee over her failures in the initial investigation of indecent exposure allegations involving Couzens.
The panel ruled that she would have been dismissed had she still been serving and she will be added to the barred list preventing future employment with the police.
Former PC Lee, who resigned from the MPS last year, was found to have failed to correctly progress inquiries into the allegations, and then provided a misleading account when questioned by IOPC investigators. In doing so she breached police professional standards for duties and responsibilities, and honesty and integrity.
IOPC investigators established that ex-PC Lee spent a maximum of 20 minutes of the hour allocated for her to interview the manager at the drive-through fast food restaurant on March 3, 2021. She did not progress CCTV inquiries; and did not record on the crime report a statement from the manager, till receipts from the suspect, and initial accounts from the victims, said the IOPC. She also did not carry out all the necessary intelligence checks to establish who was driving the car despite an initial check on the registration showing Couzens as the only male keeper.
The officer expected the investigation to be allocated to another team but had not made that team aware of that despite it being her responsibility to do so, the panel heard, and found a case to answer for gross misconduct.
In a separate investigation, completed in May 2022, the IOPC found a case to answer for misconduct against a Kent Police sergeant for failing to follow all reasonable lines of inquiry after it was reported that a motorist had indecently exposed himself to a pedestrian in 2015.
“Evidence we gathered showed that while the man who reported the incident did not want to support the investigation, the officer did not carry out CCTV inquiries or seek to identify further witnesses; and did not contact Couzens to establish if he was still the registered keeper of the car allegedly involved, and where he was at the time,” said the IOPC.
In April this year Kent Police held a misconduct meeting for the sergeant who was found to have breached police standard for duties and responsibilities but that it did not amount to misconduct. It was decided that he would undergo reflective practice, including training on sexual offences and input on investigative processes.
Ms Rowe added: ““PC Lee has now been held accountable for her actions and as a result of all of our investigations linked to Wayne Couzens, a total of 11 officers from four different forces have faced disciplinary proceedings. Two of those received custodial sentences for sending grossly offensive messages via WhatsApp, seven were dismissed or would have been dismissed if still serving, two received final written warnings and two received reflective practice.”
The IOPC has also recommended that Kent Police introduces a guidance document for volume crime investigations.
Other investigations involving matters linked to Couzens led to the IOPC finalising a report in August 2021, which found a case to answer for misconduct for three MPS officers after an offensive meme relating to the kidnap of Sarah Everard was circulated via WhatsApp.
The allegations were proven at a misconduct meeting held by the force in April 2022, when two police constables received final written warnings, one for posting the meme and the other for failing to challenge or report it.
Misconduct was also found for a third constable who was dealt with under the reflective practice review process on the basis that while disagreement was expressed with the meme, it was forwarded to seek further opinion rather than the officer reporting it.
Following referrals from the MPS, the IOPC also carried out a three-month investigation into incidents on March 9 and 10, 2021, when Couzens was treated in hospital after hitting his head on his cell toilet and cell wall following his arrest.
“After reviewing CCTV, custody logs and witness statements against police policy and procedure, we found no indication of any conduct issues for officers or staff,” the IOPC said.
MPS Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stuart Cundy said: “I recognise this entire case has raised concerns and questions.
“An independent IOPC investigation concluded former PC Lee should face a misconduct hearing for allegations about her honesty and integrity, and how she carried out her duties and responsibilities.
“Today, a panel led by an independent chair, found that her actions fell below the professional standards expected of her.
“As the panel has made clear, honesty and integrity are fundamental to policing and our relationship with the public.
“The purpose of the gross misconduct hearing was not to decide whether Wayne Couzens’ future offending could have been prevented.
“The wider circumstances leading to Sarah Everard’s terrible murder will be considered by the Angiolini Inquiry and any subsequent inquest, and we are fully assisting them with their vital work.
“Fundamentally, I am sorry that Couzens was not arrested before he went on to murder Sarah Everard and we continue to think of her loved ones.
“We know that in recent years the Met’s response to violence against women and girls has not been good enough. We are working hard with survivors, communities and partners to improve our response and rebuild trust.”