The Search for Justice

The Search for Justice

This evening the BBC will be showing “Sarah Everard: the search for justice“. It will make grim viewing. There is something troubling about the wish to see a programme about the brutal end of a woman’s life, a woman who will remind many of us of their own daughter, sister, friend, colleague. That it was made with the consent of Sarah Everard’s family is perhaps one reason why it should be watched – to understand why what happened happened, to understand the stresses on and professionalism of those officers who caught her killer and to try and learn some lessons for the future, if possible.

Even more worthwhile is reading the Angiolini Report. There are lots of recommendations. But here are the key points which resonated with me, mostly wearing my professional hat.

  1. As long as vile behaviour and deeply abusive language are normalised and accepted as ‘banter’ in policing culture and elsewhere, people like Couzens will be able to continue to commit atrocious crimes undetected. Many will say that Couzens’ crimes are a world away from the sexist and misogynistic behaviour that exists within policing, but they sit on the same continuum.
    That last point is one which is simply not understood as it should be – and not just by the police. The FCA, for instance, is looking at how firms it regulates deal with non-financial misconduct ie bullying, harassment and similar. Many other organisations will have policies that say this sort of behaviour is all very bad and will not be tolerated. But how do they know what is going on? How do they investigate and discipline? How seriously do they really take it if done by otherwise “good” (ie profitable or otherwise ‘untouchable’) performers?
  2. There are multiple cultures even in one workplace – a point made by the Report. There is rarely within one organisation – especially one as large as a police force – one culture. Some teams will have good leadership and a good working culture, chief among which is the willingness to admit to mistakes and learn from them. But Gresham’s Law applies: just as bad money drives out good, so bad people drive out the good. Or the good leave because they feel unloved, unrewarded, unappreciated. Trying to keep these people at a time of change is a real challenge for the leadership. Do they know they need to do this? Have they thought about how they will do this?
  3. There was a real lack of professionalism and tolerance of low standards of work in multiple police forces, not just the Met. This is a point that has come up again and again in multiple reports. The sloppiness of so much police work is a striking feature of this report – and many previous ones.
  4. One feature of this is poor record-keeping, possibly because of some very complicated procedures, which only the most anally retentive would enjoy following.
  5. A failure to understand the point of those processes and why they matter – especially in relation to vetting and due diligence. This is common in the business world too. In pretty much every major investigation I did, there were always small clues during the hiring process – clues which were missed or hand-waved away because those in charge forgot that “character” is the single most important characteristic you are looking for in an employee. Couzens told lots of small lies in his applications. The lies themselves are less important than the fact that he lied. Before he had done any sort of training at all, he had been taught by the police that he could lie and get away with it. It is a disastrous lesson to teach employees before they have even put a foot inside your door.
  6. This mattered – not because the lies were evidence of his sexual offending and sexually violent interests – but because it evidenced the way Couzens, as with so many fraudsters and other wrongdoers, was able to compartmentalise himself – presenting the image he wanted to authorities and only sharing his violent fantasies with a few trusted colleagues. Rather than those working with him thinking “yes, he was capable of that” when caught, many could not believe it because he had come across as quite the opposite, even as he was behaving in sexually atrocious ways in public and to various victims. It was frighteningly easy for a seriously depraved man to hide his depravity from his colleagues That makes the vetting failures and the failures to investigate his earlier crimes so much worse. That this was not done by multiple forces whose profession is investigation is depressing but unsurprising. Due diligence is not taken anywhere near as seriously as it ought to be. Look at the CV of Nick Read, currently post Office CEO, if you want another example of failed due diligence.

    There is much of value to be learnt in these reports, if only they were taken seriously. Much for the rest of society too.

    The Foreword says this “Since Sarah’s murder …..wider debates have raged about public trust and confidence in the police and women’s safety in public places. Neither of these problems have been resolved. In fact, public trust and confidence in policing has deteriorated further. It also remains the case that women in public spaces are at risk from those men who choose to predate upon them.” 

    Will it be any different in a year or two from now?


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