On Thursday last week the sentence for the man who raped and murdered Sarah Everard in March this year was announced. In the few hours before the announcement and since then there have been a number of significant statements made by people who are very aware of the way in which police officers work. It is likely that in the near future there will also be many more statements made. Based on the announcement, the way in which the Judge, Justice Fulford has dealt with the case seems to have been very effective and his decision is very good. Earlier in the day I was listening to the radio and there was a very strong and effective contribution made by a person called Zoe Billingham who is one of the key members of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS). About ten years ago I had the privilege to meet Zoe when I was standing as the Police and Crime Commissioner and she seemed then as she is now as a very capable person. Sadly for HMICFRS and indeed for the police services she works on, she is due to step down shortly but her contribution on the radio was very good and indeed the interview by Emma Barnett was also very positive. Their radio conversation which also included the statement which was made by the Mother of Sarah Everard in Court was very significant and I would encourage people to listen to it as it is available from the Womens Hour section of Radio 4.
Along with the very strong statement from Zoe Bellingham which referred to the need for Police Services to change their approach, I have also seen some very positive comments on social media from people who work very closely with Police agencies including the leader of the East Sussex Fire and Rescue Services, Dawn Whittaker. Late on Thursday she stated in two tweets
Justice has been served and I hope the verdict brings some form of comfort to Sarah Everard’s family……VAW (Violence against Women) statistics are shocking and we need good men to stand up and call it out. I have worked with some fantastic colleagues over the years, including some amazing male police officers. The actions of one man do not define all, justice has been served and the rest of us want to get on with protecting people
There have also been statements made by several politicians including Keir Starmer and Priti Patel which were both reasonably clear. However one of the issues that Priti Patel now needs to reflect on is the way in which her current Law relating to protests has sent a very disturbing signal to the people who protested what happened to Sarah Everard following her death. It is very significant that the murder and rape was dealt with in less than seven months which is a very different to many other cases in our nation. That is a theme that Parliament should be focusing on as part of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.
Over a number of years I have advised Sussex Police as part of their Independent Advisory Group (IAG) that was set out to reflect the communities that they work in. The IAG’s were established following the murder of Stephen Lawrence and a failure by the Metropolitan Police. A review was carried out six years after his death by William Macpherson in 1999 who called for Police Forces and indeed all Public Sector agencies to set up advisory groups. IAG’s exist in most Police Forces and it is clear based on my experience that Sussex Police has worked incredibly hard over the last twenty years to make its actions as effective as possible. As with all organisations mistakes do take place and some of the people who initially appear to be very committed can then emerge with very different actions. I have taken part in a wide range of meetings with senior police officers who have needed to deal with the bad behaviour of a small number of people. Although there has been nothing as appalling as the death of Sarah Everard, there have certainly been a number of Court cases and also police officers who have been sacked as a result of their behaviour. As Zoe stated last Thursday, all police forces need to work even harder to avoid the prospect of the event that took place last March in London. I am aware that the actions carried out by Sussex Police, although not always aware to local residents are very strong in dealing with such matters. It is vital that they are regularly challenged by HMICFRS and the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) and the IAG’s which involve local people who observe what happens in many cases.