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Angiolini Inquiry Report

Volume 746: debated on Thursday 29 February 2024

With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will make a statement on the Angiolini inquiry.

Three years ago, Sarah Everard was abducted, raped and murdered by an off-duty serving police officer. It was a gut-wrenching betrayal, an abuse of power of the most egregious kind, and the country was shaken to its core. My predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel), established an inquiry to examine the many failings arising from the Sarah Everard case, chaired by Lady Elish Angiolini KC. Part 1 focused on examining Wayne Couzens’ career and previous behaviour, and a report dealing with its findings has been published today.

First and foremost, we should take time to think about Sarah Everard’s family and loved ones at what must be an incredibly difficult time. I pay tribute to them all for the immense dignity that they have shown in the face of such an unbearable loss in such terrible circumstances.

Tragically, the report makes it clear that Couzens was completely unsuitable to serve as a police officer, and, worse still, that there were numerous occasions when that should, and could, have been recognised. Lady Elish identified significant and repeated problems in recruitment and vetting throughout Couzens’ career, including the overlooking of his chaotic financial situation. This meant that he was able to serve in a range of privileged roles, for instance as a firearms officer. It is appalling that reports of indecent exposure by Couzens were not taken seriously enough by the police, and that officers were not adequately trained, equipped or motivated to investigate the allegations properly. Had fuller inquiries been made in 2015 and 2020, Couzens could and probably would have been removed from policing. Evidence of his preference for extreme and violent pornography, and of his alleged sexual offending, dates back nearly 20 years prior to Sarah Everard’s murder. The inquiry found that Couzens was adept at hiding his grossly offensive behaviour from most of his colleagues, but that he shared his vile and misogynistic views on a WhatsApp group. The other members of that group are no longer serving officers, after a range of disciplinary processes. The fact that many of his alleged victims felt unable to report their experiences at the time speaks to the issue of confidence in policing among women.

I wish to place on the record my thanks to Lady Elish and her team for this report. It is a deeply distressing but incredibly important piece of work, and they have approached it with thoroughness, professionalism and sensitivity. We all owe thanks to those who came forward and gave brave testimony to the inquiry. Everyone who Couzens hurt is in my thoughts today.

The report makes 16 recommendations, including improving the police response to indecent exposure, reforming police recruitment and vetting practices, and addressing cultures in policing. The Government will now carefully consider the report and respond formally in due course, and I assure the House that our response will be prompt. We are taking action to address public confidence in the police, and there has already been progress in a number of areas that have been highlighted by the inquiry. Anyone who is not fit to wear the uniform, for whatever reason, must be removed from policing, and every effort must be made to ensure that similar people never join. That is why we are providing funding to the National Police Chiefs’ Council to develop an automated system for flagging intelligence about officers much more quickly.

We are changing the rules to make it easier for forces to remove those who cannot hold the minimum level of clearance. Police chiefs are getting back the responsibility for chairing misconduct hearings, so that they can better uphold standards in the forces that they lead, and there will be a presumption of dismissal for any officer found to have committed gross misconduct. I can announce today that there will also be automatic suspensions of police officers charged with certain criminal offences, but the work must continue. Part 2 of the Angiolini inquiry is considering systemic issues in policing, such as vetting, recruitment and the culture, as well as the safety of women in public spaces. I will of course read the findings closely and with care.

Sarah Everard’s murder started a national conversation about violence against women and girls, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham reopened a call for evidence that went on to receive 180,000 responses from members of the public, with many sharing their harrowing personal experiences. That evidence demonstrated the terrible truth: women and girls routinely feel unsafe. This is unacceptable and should anger us all, and the whole of society needs to treat change in this area as an urgent priority.

Tackling violence against women and girls has been a priority for me for a long time. It is now a priority set out in the strategic policing requirement, meaning that VAWG is rightly considered to be as serious a focus as tackling terrorism. Our tackling violence against women and girls strategy and tackling domestic abuse plan are backed up by significant investment. We are changing the law so that rapists will serve their full sentence behind bars, with no option of release at the two-thirds point, and anyone who commits a murder with a sexual or sadistic element will spend the rest of their days in prison.

Our safer streets fund and safety of women at night fund support a range of projects across England and Wales. The online StreetSafe tool enables the public to anonymously report areas where they feel unsafe and why. There is a new national operating model for the investigation of rape and serious sexual offences, which means that the police and prosecutors will work together more closely, building stronger cases that focus on the behaviour of the suspect, and that place victims at the heart of everything. We have also launched a nationwide behaviour change campaign called “Enough” to bring about an enduring shift in the attitudes and behaviours that underpin the abuse of women and girls.

Most police officers use their powers to serve the public bravely and well, but the impact can be devastating when they fall short. Society cannot function properly when trust in the police is eroded. I am unambiguous that police forces must keep improving and must command the confidence of the people they serve. It is imperative that police leadership, of whatever rank, plays its part in this endeavour.

Once again, I express my heartfelt sympathy to Sarah Everard’s family and friends. I cannot begin to imagine the extent of their pain. Together, we must do everything possible to stop such agony being visited on others, to rebuild public trust, and to make sure that our streets and public places, as well as the private realm, are safe for women and girls. I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Home Secretary for advance sight of the statement.

Three years ago this Sunday, a young woman walking home was abducted and brutally killed by a serving police officer who she should have been able to trust to keep her safe. Today we think of Sarah Everard and her parents, family and friends, who have to live with the shattering consequences of what happened. This is also a day when many families who have lost sisters, daughters and mothers to violence are here in Parliament to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), read out the names of the women killed this year.

Today’s damning report is about women’s safety. It is for all the women across the country who worry about walking home alone, or who worry about their daughters’ safety. It is also about trust and confidence in policing, and whether we have the standards in place to maintain confidence in individual officers. The work of the vast majority of police officers who work immensely hard and with integrity to keep communities safe is undermined when standards fail. I thank Lady Elish Angiolini for her inquiry and this comprehensive first report. I also thank those who came forward to give evidence.

The report exposes a catalogue of appalling failures in police vetting and misconduct processes, and in the investigation of indecent exposure and sexual offences. Wayne Couzens should never have been a police officer. He should have been stopped, and he could have been stopped, from being a police officer. It is truly appalling. His history of alleged sexual offending stretches back so many years, yet the opportunities to investigate were repeatedly missed. Most disturbing of all, Lady Angiolini says that there is

“nothing to stop another Couzens operating in plain sight.”

Although I agree with most of what the Home Secretary says, I have to be blunt about this: his response is too weak—too little, too late. The lack of urgency is unfathomable to me. The Government have been repeatedly warned about failures around vetting and misconduct. Independent inspectorate reports in 2012, 2019, 2022 and 2023 all highlighted serious failures in vetting procedures, which is why, two years ago, I called for mandatory national vetting standards. Forces are working hard, but there are no mandatory standards for all forces. All the Government have done is bring in a code of practice two and a half years after Sarah Everard’s murder, and it is not strong enough. Frankly, it is not even clear that Wayne Couzens, or officers such as David Carrick and Cliff Mitchell—both now convicted—would definitely have failed the vetting standards and the code of practice had they been in force at the time. The Home Secretary has to go further, and that has to be driven by the Home Office.

As for the misconduct changes that the Home Secretary referred to, most of them are not even in place yet. Again, this is three years after Sarah Everard was murdered. Will he commit today to a new mandatory vetting framework, underpinned by legislation, that all forces must abide by, under which any evidence about past domestic abuse or sexual offending will be pursued, and that will not simply take into account convictions? We will support him in that. At a minimum, will he accept recommendation 6, which is about a

“Review of indecent exposure allegations and other sexual offences recorded against serving police officers”?

At a minimum, surely he can accept that today.

The automatic suspensions that the Home Secretary announced do not go far enough. Are we to suspend people for criminal offences only once they have been charged? Once the police launch an investigation into domestic abuse or sexual offences by a serving police officer, that officer should be automatically suspended. Again, we have called for that repeatedly. The Home Secretary is not going far enough. As for the response on women’s safety more widely, that, too, is frankly too week.

I welcome many of the policies the Home Secretary referred to and that the Government have introduced over the past few years—most of them are things we called for—but, again, this goes nowhere near far enough. On indecent exposure, we know about the awful murder of Libby Squire in 2019 and the failure to take indecent exposure seriously enough. Libby’s mother, Lisa Squire, and the Home Affairs Committee Chair have been campaigning for stronger action on indecent exposure for years now. Again, surely the Home Secretary can accept at least the first three recommendations of Lady Elish’s report, which are on stronger police training and guidance on, and a stronger approach to, investigating indecent exposure.

When it comes to women’s safety, the reality is that the number of prosecutions for domestic abuse has halved; rape prosecutions are still taking years; early action and intervention just does not happen. There is a shocking drift on women’s safety and in what the Home Secretary has said today. I urge him to: support Labour’s call for new vetting rules, and for specialist rape and sexual offences units in every force; support Raneem’s law, so that the police respond with urgency to domestic abuse and save lives; and listen to Lisa Squire, the mother of Libby Squire. We say that this report should be a watershed, but we said that Sarah Everard’s murder three years ago should have been a watershed, and far too little has changed. How long must we go on saying the same things?

The first women’s safety march was on the streets of Leeds nearly 50 years ago, and we are saying the same things about our daughters’ safety today. I am sick and tired of nothing changing. I am sick and tired of women and girls who face abuse and violence not getting support, while perpetrators get away with it. Enough is enough. Let us have some urgency in the Home Secretary’s response. We cannot stand for this any more.

The right hon. Lady makes a number of points about the findings in the report, and about the issues raised because of Sarah Everard’s brutal murder. I have continued the work of my predecessors, including that initiated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel), to make sure that not just the Department, but police forces around the country and other organisations, statutory and non-statutory, that deal with the safety of women, are focused relentlessly on this issue. We have made it clear that there is still much work to do, and, as I committed to do, we will respond promptly to the findings of this report.

I understand the frustration that not enough has happened; things have not moved fast enough, and cultural change still needs to be driven through, including on leadership. I have made clear to police leaders, both in forces around the country and at the College of Policing, my expectation of leadership. This is not just about process and procedure, but about these matters being amplified and supported by leadership, and about a real commitment to driving through change in forces. I will continue to ensure that that happens.

I do not think it is right for the right hon. Lady to say that nothing has changed. That would not be an accurate reflection of the situation from the time to which she makes reference. There have been a number of improvements. My first visit as Home Secretary was to Holborn police station to look at the team working there. There have been improvements, although I concede that they have not been universally applied. The differential performance among forces is not good enough. I have discussed what can happen to ensure the least well performing forces match the performance of the best forces.

There remains a huge amount of work to be done. We are not waiting for the outcome of the second inquiry before we take action. We will look at changes to the recruitment and vetting processes, which have been highlighted, but in her inquiry Dame Elish shows that there were plenty of occasions when the current system flagged problems that were not properly responded to by the force. Those are not procedural problems but a culture problem. We will look at what processes and procedures need to change, but I will not wait for the second report before doing so. I will continue to push for cultural change through society and policing, to ensure that where issues are flagged, as they were, they are taken seriously and investigated properly to ensure that such a situation will hopefully never happen again.

I join everybody in the House in paying tribute to Sarah Everard’s family. Having spent time with them, I hope the report will at least give them some sense of the facts and circumstances around what happened to their beautiful daughter, as they requested.

I thank Dame Elish Angiolini for her incredible work. This report is only part one; parts two and three will follow. The report has no surprises when we think about what has been said thus far about policing since Sarah’s appalling abduction and murder. Zoë Billingham, His Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services and others have highlighted many institutional, cultural and practical failures.

Will the Home Secretary give his own view on what can happen next? This is a clear call for action for all police forces around the country to raise the bar on consistent vetting and action. There is no place for criminal or corrupt conduct in policing. We police by consent in our country but that bond has been broken with the public, as the report shows. With reports two and three due to come out, will the Home Secretary give a commitment that, as those reviews are undertaken and as he engages with Dame Elish Angiolini, he will act swiftly where issues are identified and not wait for the publication of further reports? Will he also act swiftly on putting forward the recommendations in part one of the report?

I thank my right hon. Friend for initiating the report and appointing Dame Elish. Details in the report were new to many people and were painful to read, but much of what is highlighted was already known. We have not waited for the report to start driving change. I have had conversations with police leadership about my expectations for their focus on the policing of the safety of women and girls and their attitude towards women and girls. Processes and structures are important; we will review and improve them. However, the best processes and structures in the world cannot replace focus and leadership. It is incredibly important that leadership at every rank in policing takes that seriously. This is a conversation that I have had with police leaders and the College of Policing to ensure that the attitudes highlighted in the report change. Without that shift in attitudes, all the processes in the world will not repair what needs to be repaired. That is a conversation that I will repeat.

I am grateful for advance sight of the statement, and to Dame Elish Angiolini for the careful and thorough way she has worked through this task, and the thoughtful way she talked through her findings online earlier. I, too, am thinking of Sarah Everard and her family today, as well as the family of Emma Caldwell, who have experienced such a protracted, awful ordeal.

Fundamentally, our police forces must both keep us safe and have our confidence that they will do so. Of course, most police officers do an excellent job, but trust has been hugely damaged by issues being raised—including, as we have heard, indecent exposure—but not acted on. We have heard that Wayne Couzens should never have been a police officer. The Home Secretary spoke about vetting. I put it to him that we need to hear more about both process and culture. It cannot be one before the other; both must be dealt with immediately. I would also like to hear more about how those currently in the force who show tell-tale signs, as Couzens did, will be dealt with.

What does the Home Secretary mean by “automated systems”, and how will they work? Will additional funding be made available to tackle institutional misogyny within the Met, and will Barnett consequentials be available so that the Scottish Government can similarly look at the threat of violence against women and girls, across society and within the police force?

Good policing will not end the epidemic of male-inflicted violence against women, but it should mean that men who abuse women are held to account. I wonder whether the Home Secretary is aware of the relatively small proportion of police officers investigated for domestic abuse, sexual assault, rape and abuse of position who were suspended over the last two years, and what steps he is taking to deal with that. Will the Home Secretary talk further about those who have raised concerns about domestic abuse by police officers, and how the specific actions that are needed will be taken? This is quite devastating for women’s confidence in policing. I wonder whether he is considering a statutory inquiry into institutional misogyny within the Metropolitan police.

Finally, he said at the beginning of his statement that the report and his Government’s actions have brought to light the concerns that women have. I have to say to him that we have had these concerns forever. This is not a new situation, but there is now an opportunity to do more about it. I am keen to hear about how that might pan out.

On the hon. Lady’s final point, I want to make it clear what I meant. I was not suggesting that the report had brought to my attention, or that of the Department, a problem that is severe and long-standing. When I was at City Hall in the London Assembly, I contributed to the London violence against women and girls strategy, back in 2008-09, so I have been involved in this area and been passionate about it for the entire time I have been in elected office.

What Sarah Everard’s murder highlighted more generally to the public was something that I know women have known for a very long time: that the public realm is not safe enough; that their concerns are often not taken seriously enough; that there has been a dismissive attitude to non-contact sexual crimes; and that it takes far too long to bring domestic abusers to justice, too few of them are brought to justice, and women do not feel safe during the process. That has been raised by many people in the House. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), who has made it clear that far, far more needs to be done, which many women already instinctively know.

That is the point that I am making about these tragic circumstances; we need to bring a greater and wider attention to this—a whole society attention. This is an issue about women and girls, but it is not an issue for women and girls. It has to be a whole society issue. I remain absolutely committed to ensuring that the specific recommendations of the report are responded to promptly, but, as my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel), said, we are not waiting for the report to come out to take action; we have already taken action and we have already increased funding.

With regard to the Barnett consequentials, I will have to leave it to others to talk through the implications of that within the wider funding envelope of our support to Scotland as an integral part of the Union of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

This comprehensive report reveals a truly appalling catalogue of what ultimately turned out to be fatal errors, incompetence and complacency, which were epitomised by a culture in parts of the Met police—it is important to say “parts”—where vile behaviour and deeply abusive language, as we would recognise it to be, constituted banter. Mark Rowley, when he came in, offered in response to open up more than 1,000 cases of previous scandal and conduct investigations to see whether they had been conducted properly. When the Home Affairs Committee went to see the standards committee at the Met, we were told that this would take some time and that we would see more of these cases coming out. Can the Home Secretary give us a progress report on what more instances we are likely to see in the public domain?

Can we also hear more about an issue that we have raised previously, which is where those reviews of standards are undertaken by other members of the police force. Surely there is a case for bringing in greater independence by using other agencies and institutions, such as the military, to help with these investigations, as they would approach this from a different standpoint, ensuring that it is not just a case of the police marking their own homework.

The review that was initiated by my predecessor and worked through by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner is important. The commissioner has demonstrated an admirable commitment to reform. Having had conversations directly with him about this, I know that he takes these issues incredibly seriously. He wants to ensure that the Metropolitan police not only serve the capital and everybody in it, but are seen to serve them and that there is confidence in that.

I will of course consider my hon. Friend’s final point. I sat on the Metropolitan Police Authority’s professional standards committee from 2008, when I was first elected, until 2012. I saw the professionalism and alacrity with which the professional standards department of the Metropolitan police set about its work. There is a real anger directed at unprofessional officers by good officers. In my experience, the professional standards team takes its work incredibly seriously. The team wants to root out bad officers. Through the Criminal Justice Bill, we are giving chief constables more power to root out bad officers quickly, and I have committed to supporting them when they do so.

I welcome today’s statement. I hope that we will get a full response to the report from the Home Secretary very quickly. May I also associate myself with the comments of the Home Secretary and other right hon. and hon. Members today? Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Sarah Everard.

I wish to ask the Home Secretary again about this issue of indecent exposure, which is highlighted in the report and which he has talked about a little. In my constituency, we had the horrific case of Libby Squire, who was raped and murdered by a man who had been stalking women and roaming the streets of Hull for 18 months prior to murdering her. He had been exposing himself and committing acts of voyeurism. People did not report his actions, because they did not think that the police would take them seriously. Libby’s mum, Lisa Squire, has been campaigning on this for the past few years. She has recently given evidence at a hearing of the Home Affairs Committee. I wondered whether the Home Secretary would meet her, because it would be interesting to know his view. What more can be done now to encourage people—women in particular—to come forward when such things happen to them? I would also say that almost every woman I know has had this happen to them at some stage in their life. This problem is endemic.

I thank the Chair of the Select Committee for raising this point. I will of course seek to find an opportunity to meet the Squire family about this matter.

There needs to be a cycle of increased confidence. I hate some of the phraseology that has been applied, and I choose never to apply it about this issue, because there is the implication that these matters are less serious. But the sad truth is that, when we see reports of serious sexual violence, we can look back through the case history and often see plenty of examples of criminality leading up to that. Therefore we do absolutely need to take this seriously. Women who have been the victims of these kind of crimes—this kind of behaviour—need to feel confident about reporting them and they need to feel confident that their reports will be taken seriously. The more they see the police taking action, the more confident they will be in coming forward. Therefore, we need to develop a virtuous circle. We are not there yet; indeed, we know that we are a long way from that. We have seen this happen in the Couzens case. He was known to have committed these crimes, and that should have triggered a much more robust response. But it did not, and we must address why that was the case. We have to ensure that leadership and policing understand that, collectively, this House and the Home Office expect them to take this matter more seriously and send the signal that these crimes are not trivial and should not be ignored.

I would like to associate myself with the remarks of others—my thoughts are also with the Everard family.

This report tells us that the environment did nothing—nothing—to discourage Couzens’ misogynistic view of women. We know that not every flasher becomes a rapist, but we also know that every rapist starts somewhere. I respectfully say to my right hon. Friend that, of course, there have been good changes with regard to criminal justice and longer sentences for the most violent and the most serious offences, but that is too late. We have to intervene in the offending journey.

Last week, my Committee heard from Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stuart Cundy, a man who has taken on a really difficult job, overturning those stones in the Metropolitan police and turning up at 1,600 instances of officers with at least one allegation of a sexual offence or domestic violence—1,600. Can my right hon. Friend give us an assurance today that he will give more power to Stuart Cundy’s elbow, so that we get rid of these individuals from our police service?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. When I talk about that cycle of confidence, women need to see that when these crimes are reported, they are investigated and the perpetrators are brought to justice. Only then will they feel confident in coming forward. These are serious offences; they are not trivial. She is right to say that not everyone who is a flasher, not everyone who has made unwanted and inappropriate sexual advances to women, goes on to become a rapist or a murderer. None the less, the more people who are dissuaded from that behaviour because of swift and professional criminal justice, the more people we can prevent from getting to those later stages. That is why this is so important. That is why that cultural change needs to be driven through the whole system. A number of the Angiolini recommendations are for Departments other than the Home Office and for public bodies outside Government—all of us have to take this incredibly seriously. This is a whole of society approach, and that will remain the fundamental philosophy that I use to underpin the work of the Home Office in this area.

I associate myself with the comments for the Everard family and with Lady Elish Angiolini. Her report today is a continuation of her reports that have highlighted failures in our criminal justice system.

In the Home Secretary’s statement, I noticed mention of funding for the National Police Chiefs’ Council for the flagging of police officers in the vetting system. My own experience in the police service is that IT system improvements take a long time and are complex, so I suppose my first question for him is: what timescales do we have in mind for those improvements? Secondly, what engagement is happening with Police Scotland, because police officers transfer to forces in and outwith the UK? Finally, if today a serving police officer were found in a concerning situation that requires input into the intelligence system and they do not identify themselves as a police officer, are we confident that they would be dealt with accordingly?

The hon. Lady makes a number of points about the implementation of the changes that we are making. I cannot give precise timescales at the moment, because this piece of work is ongoing and recently initiated, but my desire is for these things to happen as quickly as possible. She is absolutely right that IT and systems changes are not instant, and I am impatient to get improvement, which is why I keep saying that we are not waiting for these things to go forward. They are amplifiers and accelerators of what should be a fundamental change that we are looking to drive through immediately. The earliest conversations that I had when appointed as Home Secretary were on this issue with the College of Policing and with Lady Elish herself. One of those first meetings I had on my appointment was with Lady Elish about this report and the work that we could do to get ahead of the findings that she has put forward.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. He will be clear that the overwhelming number of Metropolitan police officers are brave individuals who frequently put their life on the line to protect us all. That is key: such individuals want to see the bad apples rooted out and, indeed, never come into the police service in the first place. However, there are two aspects to the problems of the Metropolitan police: they are the one force in the country that failed to meet their recruitment targets in the past year; and the Mayor has yet to provide the funding from his budget to enable the cultural change that we need to see in the Metropolitan police. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we have to ensure that standards do not slip in recruitment—they should be enforced—and that the funding needs to be provided to change the culture of the Metropolitan police, as we would all like to see?

My hon. Friend rightly draws attention to the fact that London’s police and crime commissioner is the Mayor of London. He therefore has a duty to ensure that the police force over which he has political control changes, and changes in the way that has been highlighted through the inquiry and in the part 1 findings of the inquiry.

My hon. Friend is also absolutely right that even though many of the forces across the country are at the largest they have ever been in terms of numbers, that is sadly not true of the Metropolitan police, but there absolutely must be no sacrifice of quality of vetting in order to hit the recruitment targets that we have made it clear we expect the Metropolitan police to hit. We want the Metropolitan police to be a well recruited force, and the funding has been put on the table—it has not been fully utilised by the Mayor, but the funding has been put on the table—to enable the Met to be that. The force needs to be populated with good, professional officers. That is the bar, the minimum standard we expect. We expect all leadership, uniformed and political, to abide by that philosophy.

I put it on the record that my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy), in whose constituency Sarah Everard lived and from where she was abducted, then murdered, is on an overseas visit with the Joint Committee on Human Rights and is very sorry not to be in the Chamber for this important statement.

Sarah Everard’s abduction and murder had a profound impact on women across south London. Like so many young people, she had moved to London for work and made her home in our diverse community in Lambeth. She was one of us. But both before this appalling murder and afterwards, residents in south London and further afield who expressed concerns about police behaviour that was misogynistic, racist or homophobic were told repeatedly that this was just “a few bad apples”, an offensive phrase that diminishes and denies people’s experience and belies what have been shown to be structural, cultural and widespread problems in policing.

Will the Secretary of State, in the light of the report’s findings, apologise to everyone whose experiences of unacceptable behaviour by police officers has been diminished and denied in that way? Had they been listened to when they reported their experiences, action could have been taken that might have prevented Sarah’s appalling and tragic murder from taking place.

As I said, from my first day in elected office, I have tried to drive cultural change and an increase in professionalism, first in the Metropolitan police and, in this job, in policing more widely. I will continue to do that for all the time that I have the power and authority to do so. There needs to be—there must be—fundamental change. We must create an environment where women and girls feel confident in, not fearful of policing. That will remain my focus. I assure the hon. Lady and the House that I remain committed to that.

I pay tribute to Lady Elish Angiolini for her thoughtful and considered report. The Home Affairs Committee took significant evidence on this issue, and her findings chime with what we heard about police standards and the culture within policing. It is worth saying that the vast majority of police officers join with good intentions, and they serve their communities well and with honour, and they serve the public well, but that core of rotten behaviour that she so well addresses in this report does exist. That is what we have to address, because at the heart of this issue is trust in policing.

We need to get back to a place where women trust police officers and where they trust that when they report things, those reports will be listened to. Does my right hon. Friend have confidence not just in what the Metropolitan police are doing, but in what forces around the country are doing—I have Cumbrian women who are concerned about their walks home at night—to look at the people in their forces and ensure that they root out bad behaviour and get the culture right?

As I said in my response to the shadow Home Secretary, the simple truth is that there is no consistency across the country. Some forces deal with these issues better than others. We want to ensure that we increase the focus on such issues right across the country. The strategic policing requirement that I put forward is part of driving that attitudinal change right across the country. I demand that all police forces treat this as a priority issue, taking it as seriously as their work on counter-terrorism policing, for example, and that they learn from best practice, which is why I have spoken extensively with the College of Policing about the issue. Every woman everywhere in the country should have confidence in their police force.

I would like to send my love to Sarah Everard and to the families of the 340 women in this country who have been killed since the day she was killed.

The Home Secretary said that the strategic policing requirement is designed to make this issue as important as terrorism, but which police force in the country with a counter-terrorism unit has the same number of officers in that unit as it does specialists in violence against women and girls? Why did his Department spend £50 million last year on 6,700 Prevent referrals to prevent people from ending up in terrorism, but £18 million on 898,000 police reports of domestic abuse? We have 6,000 on one side and nearly 1 million on the other; the Home Office spends £18 million on DV perpetrators and £50 million diverting terrorism perpetrators, and says, “We are taking it just as seriously.”

To say, “We are doing everything possible in flagging intelligence” is just not true. Currently, if someone is found by a family court in this country—a British court —to have raped their wife, raped one of their children or abused their children, no police force in the country would be entitled to that information when doing their vetting. Will the Home Secretary commit to ensuring that, if someone who wants to become a police officer or a social worker has been found by a British court to have committed rape or child abuse, that information will all be made completely and utterly available?

The hon. Lady raises an incredibly important point about ensuring that offences are taken into consideration in vetting. That is part of the set of reforms that we will look at driving through. She makes a point about numbers of officers and budgets; I am not convinced that that is necessarily the most useful metric of the seriousness with which we take things. As I say, the strategic policing requirement makes clear my expectations. Ultimately, we continue to increase the financial support for the policing of these issues. I will continue, as I have committed to the House, to ensure that police officers of all ranks take this seriously, because without attitudinal change and a fundamental shift in philosophy, increased funding and changed processes —both of which are incredibly important; I absolutely agree with her on that—will not have the effect that she and I both desire.

I thank the Home Secretary for his statement. Like many, I was shocked by the murder of Sarah Everard three years ago. I praise the dignity of her family. I worry for women walking home at night. I lost trust in the police then.

To follow on from the challenge by the shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), surely if an investigation into a police officer is launched after allegations of domestic abuse or sexual assault, that officer should be suspended straightaway.

I have worked with professional standards officers. Something like that, which might superficially seem obvious, is often more complicated. We have put forward changes in the thresholds that trigger a suspension. Of course, we expect investigating officers to move swiftly, as I said at the Dispatch Box on Second Reading of the Criminal Justice Bill. We want officers who are innocent to be vindicated quickly, and we want officers who are not to be removed from the force. That remains the philosophy that underpins our work on this.

I thank the Home Secretary for his statement. Like many others, I pay tribute to the families of Sarah Everard and the many other women who have lost their lives to violence by men. I think about the events back in March 2021 and take people back to the vigil that was organised on Clapham common, which is covered by my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy), who is not able to be here. Women wanted to come together to show solidarity. We all remember the scenes of Patsy Stevenson being handcuffed on the ground by two police officers.

The Home Secretary has spoken about women having the confidence to come forward and report. He also mentioned the Metropolitan Police Authority, of which he was one of the founding members. I served as a London Assembly member and sat on the police and crime committee, which saw reports about Met police officers’ actions. Does he not agree that for those women to come forward, they need confidence in the police, and that requires suspending at the first hurdle any police officers who have acted inappropriately—no ifs, no buts?

I respect the hon. Lady’s experience on this issue. She will have heard the response that I gave to the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith). There cannot be universality in this; responses have to be based on the facts of individual cases. Successful challenges would be highly likely if suspension decisions were not based on the individual circumstances of each case. However, we have made it clear that the threshold has historically been far too high. We have reviewed that threshold and made it quicker and easier for officers to be suspended. That goes hand in hand with the changes we are making, through the Criminal Justice Bill, to ensure that the disciplinary procedure operates more quickly so that officers who are found to have behaved appropriately are returned to duty quickly, and those who are found to have behaved inappropriately are sanctioned quickly. That is incredibly important.

The policing of the vigil for Sarah Everard was awful —it was awful. It took what was already an incredibly painful set of circumstances and made them worse. I have spoken to police officers who recognise that. I will continue to speak about leadership, because that is not a process point; it is a leadership point. It is about driving attitudinal change and a willingness to accept criticism from people who have felt victimised for far too long and are demanding a change in the attitude of police around the country. The response to those incredibly legitimate concerns, at a point of incredible sadness and tragedy, amplified what were already tragic circumstances. I will do everything I can to ensure that situations like that are never—never—repeated.

I, too, pay tribute to the family of Sarah Everard. In Newcastle and across the country, her vile murder led to an outpouring of grief and horror, but it did not, as the Home Secretary said, start a conversation about violence against women—[Interruption.] That is what he said. Rather, it showed that the voices, the pain and the fears of women were being ignored. He says that he takes violence against women seriously; his language and his actions need to reflect that. Will he speak specifically about recommendation 11 on information sharing between forces so that predators like Couzens cannot move from force to force? This is not an issue for the Met alone.

As I said in response to the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain), my point about starting a national conversation is that there are people who should have been thinking about this matter but were not. The terrible circumstances of the murder of Sarah Everard triggered a conversation within the Home Office and in policing. My own experience long predated those terrible events.

We must recognise, as a number of Members from across the House have said, that something changed when Sarah was murdered. We must absolutely ensure that those terrible circumstances, which the inquiry demands that we see, are utilised to drive fundamental change. I commit to the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) that I will continue to drive that change and prioritise violence against women and girls. It is a key priority, as I have communicated over and over again since the day I was appointed Home Secretary.

I welcome the statement and the report, but it beggars belief—it is shocking beyond comprehension—that we can have serving police officers in this country who have been convicted of multiple counts of rape, kidnap, breaches of non-molestation orders and other serious offences. In his replies, the Home Secretary has said a number of times that this is not just an issue for women and girls. I would argue that it should not be an issue for women and girls: this is actually a man’s problem. We need to really address male attitudes towards women and girls. There can be no place for misogyny, violence, warped views or predatory behaviour. This is a problem of certain sections of the male population, so what more are the Government doing to tackle those warped views of women and girls by men?

The hon. Gentleman is right. As I say, this is an issue that affects the lives of women, but it should not be thought of as a woman’s issue—he is absolutely right that it is male perpetrators who need to change. I have always said that I do not want women to have to change their behaviour; I do not want women to have to be in segregated train carriages, or to not be able to go out at night. We should be talking about not curtailing the behaviour of women, but a fundamental change in male behaviour.

The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) raised a point that I failed to answer when replying to her, so I will take the opportunity to do so now, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind. Information sharing between forces is absolutely key. We have seen that Couzens went from Kent to the Civil Nuclear Constabulary before coming to the Metropolitan police. While there were failures at various points, his vetting failure in Kent should have been flagged in other areas, particularly as he went on to very serious pieces of work with the Civil Nuclear Constabulary and then as a firearms officer in the Met. That vetting failure should have triggered much firmer action, and information sharing is a part of that.

I finish by repeating my point: the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) is absolutely right that this is about changing male behaviour, not women’s behaviour.

Like others, my thoughts today are with Sarah Everard’s family on what must be a very difficult day for them.

Lady Angiolini’s report is damning, but one of the saddest things about it is that many of the things she mentions—reports not being taken seriously, officers not being properly trained, and failures of culture within police forces—simply reinforce the fears that many of us have for the safety of ourselves and our daughters on our streets. I welcome what the Secretary of State has said about the need for societal change and changes in men’s behaviour. Does he agree that a vital step in making those changes would be recognising misogyny as a hate crime, and moving forward to ensure that women feel better protected by the law?

What will drive raised confidence is women seeing that their issues are taken seriously during investigations, and improving the speed with which the police respond to those investigations. My right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) made the point that non-contact sexual offences need to be taken seriously so that interventions can happen much earlier, before greater harm is perpetrated.

I know that there have been calls for misogyny to be made a hate crime. While I understand those calls, I am yet to be convinced that that would necessarily drive the change that we seek to drive. There are other direct things that we should do, and indeed are doing, to drive that change. We have increased the penalties for sexually related criminality, as I said in my statement; we are ensuring that rapists are not released at the two-thirds point; and we are ensuring that where convictions involve sadism and suchlike, people serve whole-life tariffs. We are making clear through the penalties for those crimes that we take them incredibly seriously, but it has to be ongoing work.

Further to the response that the Home Secretary has just given to the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine), I suspect that his words will come as news to the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark). I just do not understand: we passed a law in this place last June, the Protection from Sex-based Harassment in Public Act 2023, which was designed explicitly to recognise where women are targeted on our streets and give them additional protections. The suffragettes taught us “Deeds not Words”. That Act was not even mentioned by the Home Secretary; I am not surprised, since he is not the only one who does not value it.

As a London MP, I have written to the Met commissioner about this issue. The Met is refusing to recognise the Protection from Sex-based Harassment in Public Act. It says that it does not see that Act as part of tackling violence against women or tackling misogyny, as the Home Secretary seems not to. In doing so, it does not understand that women being targeted on our streets is misogyny, because it is happening to them. That is why they have no confidence. If the Home Secretary wants to rebuild that confidence, will he ask the Met to abide by the laws that this place has passed to protect women, and will he get on and implement that piece of legislation? All he needs to do is sign the statutory instrument. That is one good thing that could come out of today: if the Home Secretary recognises that women do not feel safe on our streets and that it is not their problem to fix, maybe he, as the man in charge, will do something about it.

I recognise the frustration that the hon. Lady expresses, and I can only restate my personal commitment. With regard to the Metropolitan police’s implementation of decisions made by this House, she should recognise that that is a decision for the political head of policing in London, the Labour Mayor of London. I am more than happy to take this matter up with him, if she has not already done so.

Dame Angiolini’s finding that there is nothing to stop another Wayne Couzens operating in plain sight worries me, because he had been operating in plain sight since 2002. The Home Secretary has used many words today, which he will be held to: “systemic issues in policing”, “trust in policing”, “attitudinal change is needed”, “change is needed”. Actions speak louder than words, Home Secretary. The police vetting, standards and misconduct systems need to be looked at now, so will he meet me to discuss the Police (Declaration) Bill, which I introduced as a ten-minute rule Bill only a few weeks ago, and how a register of memberships of secret societies should be publicly available? We need to rebuild trust in our police.

I will ensure that either I or one of the Ministers in the Department gets the details of the points that the hon. Lady has brought forward.

I am more than happy to be held accountable for the words I have said at the Dispatch Box and the words I have said throughout my political career on this issue, because I am not going to lose focus on it. I can assure the hon. Lady and the House of that. As I have said, for the whole time that I have authority and jurisdiction over these areas, I will maintain this issue as a priority and demand that others—whether in uniform or out of uniform, operational police officers or those in the political leadership of police forces—take it as seriously as it should be taken. It is totally unacceptable that women and girls are not able to live their lives fully in our society because of fear, not only of criminality but of a lack of response from policing when these issues are brought to light.