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London Police Should Not Have Hired Officer Who Killed Woman, Inquiry Finds

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London Police Should Not Have Hired Officer Who Killed Woman, Inquiry Finds

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An inquiry published Thursday into the murder of a young woman three years ago by a London police officer — a case that rattled Britain and set off a broader reckoning in the country about violence against women — has found that the police force missed signs of a troubling past that should have prevented him from being hired.

The woman, Sarah Everard, 33, was abducted, raped and murdered in March 2021 by Wayne Couzens, a member of London’s Metropolitan Police Service. Mr. Couzens was later sentenced to life in prison for the killing.

Ms. Everard’s murder cast a spotlight on how bad behavior and violence against women had been allowed to thrive within the country’s police ranks, prompting soul-searching and demands to improve the processes of hiring and overseeing officers.

“It is time for all those in policing to do everything they can to improve standards of recruitment, vetting and investigation,” Elish Angiolini, a lawyer who led the inquiry, said at a news conference. “Wayne Couzens was never fit to be a police officer. Police leaders need to be sure there isn’t another Couzens operating in plain sight.”

The inquiry found that Mr. Couzens’ initial vetting when he applied to join the Metropolitan Police Service in 2018 had been deeply flawed, missing available information, including on troubling incidents when he served in another police force in Kent, in southeast England. The information was overlooked when Mr. Couzens applied to work in London in 2018 and again when he applied for a specialized firearms role the next year, the inquiry found.

Earlier reports included a concerning use of pornography, an indecent exposure allegation that was never acted upon by the authorities and an incident, which the inquiry did not detail, in which he was reported missing from his home.

The inquiry’s detailed report examined how “evidence of his preference for violent and extreme pornography and history of alleged sexual offending dates back nearly 20 years prior to Sarah’s murder.” It said there may be more victims of Mr. Couzens who have yet to come forward.

The report outlined 16 recommendations for those responsible for policing that included, among others, how to treat indecent exposure incidents, how to conduct home visits and how to vet police applicants. “Without a significant overhaul, there is nothing to stop another Couzens operating in plain sight,” the report said.

“Now is the time for change,” Ms. Angiolini said in the report.

In a statement published in the report, Ms. Everard’s relatives said they believed that if Mr. Couzens had not been a police officer, she would not have died because she entered his car after he deceived her into thinking that she was under arrest.

“It is obvious that Wayne Couzens should never have been a police officer. Whilst holding a position of trust, in reality he was a serial sex offender,” the family said. “Warning signs were overlooked throughout his career and opportunities to confront him were missed.

Mark Rowley, commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said the report was “an urgent call to action for all of us in policing.”

“We must go further and faster, to earn back the trust of all those whose confidence in policing has been shaken by events of recent years,” he said. “Regardless of our significant progress over the past year, the scale of the change that is needed inevitably means it will take time and it is not yet complete.”

Mr. Rowley took up the post in September 2022 after his predecessor, Cressida Dick, stepped down amid the crisis of trust in the police, and he has pledged to root out problematic officers and be “ruthless” in overhauling the institutional problems within the force.

James Cleverly, the home secretary whose office is responsible for overseeing policing, said in a statement that while the police force had made “huge strides” since Ms. Everard’s death to rectify failures, more needed to be done.

“The man who committed these crimes is not a reflection on the majority of dedicated police officers working day in, day out to help people,” he said. “But Sarah was failed in more ways than one by the people who were meant to keep her safe, and it laid bare wider issues in policing and society that need to be urgently fixed.”

Mr. Couzens’ crime was not the only incident of police violence that has shocked Britain in recent years. A number of other officers have begun to appear before the courts as efforts are made to clean house. Last year, Mr. Rowley predicted that “two or three officers” could appear before the courts each week in the coming months and years.

David Carrick, another London officer, raped and assaulted at least 12 women over a two-decade law enforcement career, despite earlier accusations of violence against women. Last year he was sentenced to life in prison.

While the part of Ms. Angiolini’s inquiry released on Thursday focused on Mr. Couzens, sections to be released later will examine Mr. Carrick’s case and consider systemic issues in policing.

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