'I think we can trust the police': PM backs officers amid anger at Sarah Everard murder

1 October 2021, 17:41 | Updated: 2 October 2021, 07:25

By Will Taylor

Boris Johnson has insisted "we can trust the police" but admitted "there is a problem" with how cases of rape and violence against women are handled.

The prime minister spoke following criticism at police in the wake of Sarah Everard's murder.

She was falsely arrested by Met officer Wayne Couzens, who then raped and killed her. He was sentenced to life in prison this week.

Speaking to broadcasters, Mr Johnson said: "I do believe in the police. I do think that we can trust the police. And I think the police do a wonderful, wonderful job.

"But there is a problem. And there is a problem in the way we handle rape, domestic violence, sexual violence and the way we handle the complaints of women and girls. And it's overwhelmingly women and girls.

"And, although the incidence of some of these serious crimes is not actually going up in the way that you might think - we are having success in getting many crime types down - the problem is we have too few prosecutions for rape and too few successful prosecutions, too few convictions."

Read more: Under-fire Met tells women to ‘wave down a bus’ if they feel in danger during arrest

Read more: Met officers face investigation over offensive Whatsapp messages shared with Couzens

Wayne Couzens used his position as a Met officer to falsely arrest Ms Everard, using Covid laws as an excuse.

It has since emerged that an allegation over indecent exposure was made against Couzens just three days before he attacked the 33-year-old, preying on her as she walked alone through Clapham, South London.

Several Met officers are also facing an investigation into an allegation they shared misogynistic, racist and homophobic messages with Couzens months before he raped and murdered Ms Everard.

It has increased scrutiny on police officers and some, including Labour MP Harriet Harman, have called for the Met's commissioner Cressida Dick to go. Dame Cressida apologised after Couzens was sentenced.

Mr Johnson said "we've got to come down very hard" if officers did exchange messages of that nature, and said recruiting more female officers can make a "fundamental change".

"Should we believe in the police? Should we trust in the police? Yes I do," he said, adding he has confidence in the Met but that vetting needs to be looked into.

"And I think that Priti Patel is absolutely right, we've got to get to the bottom of what on earth happened with Wayne Couzens, we need to make sure that nothing like that happens again."

He also said that there will be "hundreds of thousands of police officers, let alone myself, up and down the country who will be absolutely heartsick by what has happened, the appalling murder of Sarah Everard by a police officer".

"And what I would really urge the public, I want to make it clear, I do believe in the police."

Mr Johnson added that about 37% of police recruits were female last year, and he hoped it would go above 40% this year.

He went on: "Are there things we need to do? Yes there are. Across a huge range of issues, from the way we handle these complaints to the way we speed up the whole criminal justice process. But should we have confidence in the police? Should we believe in policing? Absolutely."