Police will have to work hard to rebuild public confidence after the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving officer, a minister has said, as Scotland Yard said people stopped by a lone plainclothes officer should challenge their legitimacy and could try “waving a bus down” to escape a person they believe is pretending to be police.
Wayne Couzens, who joined the Metropolitan police in 2018, was handed a rare whole-life sentence on Thursday for the kidnap, rape and murder of 33-year-old Everard as she walked home in south London in March.
On Friday the policing minister, Kit Malthouse, told Sky News: “[The police] recognise that this has struck a devastating blow to the confidence that people have in police officers, but also in the Met police in particular. For those thousands and thousands of police officers out there who will have to work harder – much harder – to win public trust, it is a very, very difficult time.”
The Met announced on Thursday night that it would no longer deploy plainclothes officers on their own, after the sentencing hearing was told that Couzens used lockdown rules to falsely arrest Everard during the abduction.
The force encouraged members of the public to challenge lone plainclothes police officers if they are ever approached, asking where the officer’s colleagues are, where they have come from, why they are there and exactly why they are stopping or talking to them.
It also suggests verifying the police officer’s identity by asking to hear their radio operator or asking to speak to the radio operator themselves.
If a person still does not feel safe, the force said they should consider “shouting out to a passerby, running into a house, knocking on a door, waving a bus down or, if you are in the position to do so, calling 999.”
The Met said: “All officers will, of course, know about this case and will be expecting in an interaction like that – rare as it may be – that members of the public may be understandably concerned and more distrusting than they previously would have been, and should and will expect to be asked more questions.”
Malthouse said it would be “perfectly reasonable” to call 999 if someone had doubts about a police officer.
He said: “If anybody has any doubts about that police officer, they should question the officer on what they’re doing and if there are any doubts they should ask to speak to the control room on that officer’s radio or call 999 … that is the devastating consequence of this awful man’s actions.”
Pressure is mounting on the Met police commissioner, Cressida Dick, to resign over the case, which has sparked a national outcry over the safety of women on Britain’s streets.
The Conservative MP Caroline Nokes, Labour’s Harriet Harman and the Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse are among those calling for Dick to step down.
Malthouse backed the commissioner on Friday, adding that she had one of the “most difficult jobs in the country”.
“What I want in a policing leader is when awful calamities like this happen … I want a police leader who is transparent, willing to learn, willing to change and has a conviction and a commitment not to be defensive about the failings of the organisation, and that’s what we’re seeing in Cressida Dick,” he said.
“She is a dedicated and talented and committed police officer who is driving the Metropolitan police to ever greater standards of care and improvement and fighting crime.”
Jess Phillips, the shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding, said trust in police was “not going to be built back overnight”.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It is going to be built up if we see the government and police forces starting to actually take violence against women and girls, and the complaints that women make day in, day out, seriously.”
She said she wanted to see violence against women and girls prioritised in every police force across the UK and in the Whitehall offices of the Home Office, adding that it should be given the same resources as other crime types such as terrorism and county lines gangs.
“I want finally to not have to keep asking that this should be a priority,” she said. “The seriousness of this crime should never be underestimated.”