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

30 September 2021, 20:40 | Updated: 1 October 2021, 09:05

By Joe Cook

The Met Police has said people should run away and call 999 if they feel in danger when stopped by a lone person claiming to be an officer.

The force has urged people to try to get help if they believe the person who stopped them is not genuine.

The warning follows the sentencing of Wayne Couzens, the Met officer who kidnapped, raped and murdered Sarah Everard.

He falsely detained her while using Covid laws before driving her out of London, and on Thursday he was sentenced to life behind bars.

A spokesperson for the Met said it is unusual for a single plainclothes police officer to engage with people in London, but if it happens, other officers should arrive shortly afterwards.

"However, if that doesn't happen and you do find yourself in an interaction with a sole police officer and you are on your own, it is entirely reasonable for you to seek further reassurance of that officer's identity and intentions," the force said.

The spokesperson added that people who get stopped should ask "where are your colleagues, where have you come from, why are you here and exactly why are you stopping or talking to me?"

The force also said you should ask to see "independent verification", such as hearing the voice of an operator on a radio, or asking to speak to that operator to verify the officer is genuine.

"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 spokesperson said.

"If after all of that you feel in real and imminent danger and you do not believe the officer is who they say they are, for whatever reason, then I would say you must seek assistance - shouting out to a passer-by, running into a house, knocking on a door, waving a bus down or if you are in the position to do so calling 999."

That was suggested earlier by an officer speaking to James O'Brien on LBC.

Kelly, from Birmingham, who has worked policing sex offenders in the past, said like many women she "walks home with keys in her hands" to protect herself.

James asked Kelly what she would do if stopped by someone in an unmarked car who claimed to be a police officer, as happened in the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard.

Read more: Met cop who raped and murdered Sarah Everard will die behind bars

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

"If you were on a busy street I would say 'okay, thank you, step back, please pass me your warrant card'," the caller explained.

"Because you have got the opportunity that you predict it is unlikely that he is going to escalate that on such a busy road.

"So I would ask to see the warrant card and I would call 999... You call 999, 'I've been stopped by the police'.

"If it is a genuine police officer they will step back, and you say, 'Right this is the warrant number, can you verify this for me?' They will be able to say yes or no."

Watch: Moment Wayne Couzens falsely told police a gang made him kidnap Sarah Everard

Read more: Sarah Everard's mother tells killer he is 'the worst of humanity' ahead of sentencing

But Kelly said if she was on a "quiet residential street" and felt genuinely fearful, then she would run away.

"If it was quiet and I couldn't successfully say please hand me your warrant card, if I thought that was going to escalate into me being grabbed or something then I would turn and run as fast as I possibly could.

"If it is all resolved and it is a good police officer then you go, right apologies, this was why, no offences have been committed and that's that.

"You don't commit an offence by running away from the police."

Read more: Cressida Dick: I can't describe my fury at Wayne Couzens - I am so sorry

Read more: Starmer tells LBC Met Police must answer how Everard's killer 'slipped through the net'

However, one lawyer has told LBC that running away "risks getting people intro trouble".

Solicitor Jon Heath from Levins Law explained that "it is an offence under section 89 of the Police Act 1996 to wilfully obstruct a police officer in the execution of their duty.

"Case law confirms that a police officer who wishes to ask someone questions is executing their lawful duties, and hence that running away from an officer can amount to obstruction.

"If a woman were to run away through genuine fear that she was about to be abducted, one would hope that the police and the CPS would recognise that it would not be in the public interest to prosecute, but that cannot be guaranteed.

"Moreover, running away is not very practical advice — your average citizen will probably be caught, and possibly injured in the process."

The National Police Chiefs Council said: "Police officers always carry identification and can always be asked for verification. They are used to providing that reassurance.

"It would be extremely unusual for an officer in plain clothes to be working alone. If they are, they should be calling for assistance with other officers arriving very soon. This is standard practice.

"In light of the actions of Wayne Couzens it is right that police officers expect and are tolerant of those who wish to be further reassured. They will want to explain and reassure who they are, what they are doing and why.

"If people still feel things are not quite right or you are in imminent danger you must seek assistance, if that means shouting out to another member of the public, flagging a car down or even dialing 999 then do that."

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