Five British police officers will face misconduct action over social media messages sent in relation to Sarah Everard, who was raped and murdered by a serving police officer, the UK’s police watchdog said Friday.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), which oversees the police complaints system in England and Wales, carried out two separate investigations.
The first one found an “inappropriate graphic depicting violence against women” was shared by a Metropolitan Police constable on probation with colleagues on WhatsApp, “in reference to the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard by a serving officer.”
The police watchdog said the officer was off duty at the time but went on to staff a cordon as part of the search for Everard.
“The image was highly offensive, and the officer now has a case to answer for misconduct for potentially breaching standards of professional behavior for conduct and authority, respect and courtesy,” the IOPC said in the statement, adding the officer will face a misconduct meeting to answer the allegations.
Wayne Couzens, 48, was sentenced to life in prison without parole for the abduction, rape and murder of Everard last month.
In the other, separate, investigation, the IOPC looked at allegations seven officers from several forces “breached standards of professional behavior when they used the Signal messaging platform to share information connected to Couzens’ prosecution.”
On the night of March 3, Wayne Couzens, a serving Met police officer, spent the entire evening “hunting a lone female to kidnap and rape,” according to the judge who sentenced him last month. Couzens stopped Everard on the street by identifying himself as police, “arresting” her under the pretense of breaking Covid rules. He raped her later that evening and strangled her with his police belt. A week later, her remains were found in a woodland in Ashford, Kent – more than 50 miles from where she was last seen.
Everard’s murder has sparked outrage and an ongoing national debate about violence against women and calls to reform policing in the UK.
Inappropriate behavior is not new in the police force. After sisters Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry were brutally murdered in London in June 2020, two London Metropolitan police officers took selfies next to their bodies and shared them on WhatsApp. Six other officers failed to report it.
At least 16 women have been killed by serving or retired police officers over the last 13 years in the UK, according to the Femicide Census, a group which collects data on women killed by men.
High-ranking police have said they understand public trust has been broken, and they will take steps to regain it in the wake of Everard’s murder.
They have outlined measures they believe women should take to feel safer, which many campaigners have called tone-deaf, saying it puts the onus on women to take responsibility for avoiding crimes against them.
The UK Home Secretary Priti Patel has called for an overhaul of policing, saying in September, “all of us want to feel safe and be safe.”