Under-fire Met tells women to 'wave down a bus' if they feel in danger during arrest

1 October 2021, 11:48 | Updated: 1 October 2021, 22:04

The Met has issued new guidance for people following the murder of Sarah Everard.
The Met has issued new guidance for people following the murder of Sarah Everard. Picture: Alamy/Met Police

By Sophie Barnett

The Met Police has advised women to run away or wave a bus down if they are stopped by a lone police officer and feel in "real danger" in the wake of Sarah Everard's murder.

The new guidance has been issued following the conviction of Ms Everard's killer, former Pc Wayne Couzens, who will die in jail after he received a whole-life sentence for her kidnap, rape and murder at the Old Bailey on Thursday.

Couzens abused his position of power, stopping Ms Everard in the street and falsely arresting her under Covid-19 laws. He was plain clothed and was acting alone.

Now, the Met Police has admitted it must do more to protect women and girls on the streets of London, and has issued guidance on what people should do if they feel an officer is a threat to them.

Could you be stopped by a 'lone officer'?

It is unusual for a sole plain clothes police officer to engage with anyone in London, the Met Police said.

However, if that does happen, and it may do for various reasons, you should then expect to see other officers arrive shortly afterwards if the cop is seeking to arrest you.

As of yesterday the Met Police announced they would not deploy plain clothes officers on their own.

Deputy Commissioner Sir Stephen House said: "We will not operate plain clothes officers on their own. If we do use them, they will be in pairs."

However, he warned there will be occasions where that is not possible given that off-duty officers not in uniform "put themselves on duty" when they come across an incident.

But the guidance was criticised as "deeply insulting" and "derisory."

Patsy Stevenson, who was arrested at a vigil for Sarah Everard, said: "Telling us that we should scream and draw attention to ourselves, or call 999 to check, or wave down a bus, is like saying she could have stopped it.

"She couldn’t have. This was not down to her."

Another woman pointed out: "The idea of 'hailing a bus' if you are unsure about someone who identifies themselves as a police officer is ludicrous.

"Just wave down a bus? What if you're not at a bus stop?"

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said officers are aware they had a "job to reassure Londoners.

Read more: Met Police: Run away and call 999 if you feel in danger when stopped by lone 'officer'

Read more: Sarah Everard: Met pledges 650 new officers to protect women as killer cop jailed

Why could you be stopped?

Officers have the power to stop someone in the street if they have "reasonable grounds" you have committed a crime.

You can also be stopped if they think you might be carrying a weapon or doing anti-social behaviour.

If the police have reason to believe that you have engaged, or are engaging, in anti-social behaviour and they ask you your name and address, you must answer these questions.

If you refuse in this situation it is considered a criminal offence - and you could be arrested.

What should you do if you are stopped?

If a plain clothes police officer stops you, you should then expect other officers to arrive if they are looking to arrest you.

If that doesn’t happen and you do find yourself on your own with an officer, the Met Police said it is "entirely reasonable" for you to seek further reassurance of their identity and intentions.

The force advises asking the officer the following questions to determine whether they are genuine:

  • Where are your colleagues?
  • Where have you come from?
  • Why are you here?
  • Exactly why are you stopping or talking to me?

Read more: Police probe into whether Wayne Couzens was behind more crimes as killer is jailed

Read more: Met chief faces calls to quit over how cop nicknamed 'The Rapist' slipped through the net

What if you are still suspicious of the officer?

If the officer you are suspicious of has a radio you can ask to hear the voice of the operator, the Met Police added.

You can even ask to speak through the radio to the operator to say who you are and for them to verify you are with a genuine officer.

If you still feel in "real and imminent danger" and you do not believe the officer is legitimate, police said you must seek assistance.

They advised shouting out to a passer-by, running into a house, knocking on a door, waving a bus down or calling 999, if you are able to do so.

What are your rights?

In the wake of Sarah Everard's murder and the sentencing of Wayne Couzens, the Met Police said its officers will expect to be asked more questions.

"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," the force said in a statement.

Read more: 'What are you doing other than being sad?' Jess Phillips hits out at Patel and Cressida

Most of the time, you have the legal right to refuse to answer questions from the police and just walk away.

Usually, under ‘stop and account’, the police officer or PCSO doesn’t have the power to force you to stay. You can’t be searched or arrested just because you refuse to answer their questions.

However, you must answer if the police ask you for your name and address. This is when the police have reason to believe that you have engaged, or are engaging, in anti-social behaviour.

It is a criminal offence in this instance not to give your name and address.

The guidance issued by the Met has caused uproar online, with women's rights campaigner Patsy Stevenson saying "we should be able to trust that a police officer is not going to murder us".

She said: "Telling us that we should scream and draw attention to ourselves, or call 999 to check, or wave down a bus, is like saying she could have stopped it. She couldn’t have. This was not down to her."

Meanwhile, Natasha Davies tweeted: "Trust in the police is hanging by a thread, serious changes are needed not this kind of ridiculous 'guidance'."

Harriet Thompson added that the guidance is "laughable".

She tweeted: "The idea of 'hailing a bus' if you are unsure about someone who identifies themselves as a police officer is ludicrous. Just wave down a bus? What if you're not at a bus stop? What if there aren't any buses on the road? That the Met would announce this as guidance is laughable."