By Amanda Thorley
Ever since the horrific murder of Sarah Everard in 2021 by Met Police officer Wayne Couzens, public trust in the police has plummeted to an all-time low, and failed to recover. Those in the political and police establishment have tried to convince us that Couzens’ crime was merely the behaviour of a rare ‘bad apple’; but last month, fresh details of an appalling case have emerged, not only proving once again the ‘one bad apple’ myth to be resoundingly untrue, but showing us that we are not even close to reaching the bottom of a barrel filled with police rot.
On January 16, serving Met Police officer David Carrick pleaded guilty to a staggering 85 offences against women, covering 49 charges and spanning two decades. The sickening crimes range from domestic violence to sexual assault and rape, and the scale of his offending marks him out as one of the worst sex offenders in modern history. What is perhaps even more shocking is that Carrick came to police attention a jaw-dropping nine times, but each and every time the force failed to take action against him. Even for a police service that already seemed to have reached rock-bottom levels of public support (with a YouGov poll finding that 47% of women said their trust in the police had diminished following the death of Sarah Everard), the Carrick case marks an even deeper low.
Shilpa Shah, a CPS lawyer who helped to build the case against Carrick, told the Guardian that “a large number of these sexual offences were committed within three separate controlling relationships; others happened during one-off encounters. It didn’t matter to Carrick who the victim was – a new girlfriend, a long-term partner…a school friend or a stranger – he would still abuse them.” Carrick used his status as a police officer to gain his victims’ trust, reassuring them that “you’ll be safe with me because I’m a police officer.”
He exerted complete control over his victims’ lives, dictating when they could sleep, when they could eat and the amount that they ate. If his victims tried to resist his abuse, or break free from his control, he would again use his power as a police officer against them, this time to frighten them into submission, threatening one victim that “I can kill you. I can kill you without leaving any evidence because I work in the police.” Upon discovering that a partner planned on leaving him, he blackmailed her to coerce her into staying, threatening that “I’ll put drugs in your car and call the police. Who are they going to believe?”
In a powerful visual protest, the women’s charity Refuge placed over 1,000 rotting apples outside New Scotland Yard, with each apple representing a Met Officer who has been investigated or is currently being investigated for domestic violence or abuse against women and girls. In the public fury following the Carrick revelations, Mark Rowley (Met Police Commissioner) has since admitted that there are likely to be two or three similar cases per week coming to public attention, as officers facing charges of “dishonesty” and sexual or domestic violence against women and girls are processed by the court system.
Absurdly, Rowley described this as a “trickle” of cases, but it would be more accurate to liken it to the gushing outpour of a stinking sewer that has been unleashed by the David Carrick case. Even Suella Braverman has warned that “more shocking cases” are likely to “come to light in the short term”, as she reannounced the Angiolini Inquiry, initially set up following the murder of Sarah Everard, where Carrick’s case will be added for consideration. The results of the inquiry are due this summer, and are widely expected to be devastating for the force.
It is also unlikely that the picture is any rosier outside the Met; recent statistics released by the Home Office show that Surrey Police have had more misconduct complaints against their officers than the number of officers actually serving. Meanwhile, in the Greater Manchester Police, the second largest police force in the country, a shocking 98 officers are facing misconduct charges for sexual offences, with one individual recently losing his job for filming a woman without her consent during sex, and, disgustingly, filming himself abusing her while she slept.
Hollow promises from the establishment
As the Carrick case has come to light, Rishi Sunak has been keen to emphasise his outrage at the situation, denouncing it as “despicable”. He has also used the occasion for political rhetoric, vowing to “do whatever it takes” to stamp out misogyny and predatory behaviour. He has trumpeted his plan to check all officers against a “national database”, in order to ensure that “vetting and standards are strengthened.” But Sunak’s promises are hollow ones offering very little in the way of reassurance.
Firstly, it is unclear what such a database would reveal; whether a mere complaint against an officer would be sufficient for them to be flagged within it, or whether the officer would have to have been formally cautioned or arrested in order for any further action to follow. It is important to bear in mind that Carrick was never even arrested for his offences until 2021, so a database flagging up dangerous officers on this basis would have failed to stop him. Secondly, Carrick underwent two rounds of vetting; the second supposedly more rigorous round was only initiated after he had served in the Met for 16 years, by which time numerous women had already made complaints against him. This indicates a set of “vetting” procedures which are utterly unfit for purpose. Not only have the Tories failed to take any substantial action to improve police vetting procedures following the death of Sarah Everard, the small actions that have been taken by forces have been dismissed as “woke” by Braverman.
The governments callous attitude towards women is also reflected in the lack of justice for victims of sexual violence outside the police force. Victims brave enough to report their attackers to the authorities face a humiliating and invasive process where access to their social media details, phones and sometimes even counselling notes are demanded by the police. Understandably, many victims feel unable to accept such intrusions into their privacy. Even victims who are willing to put up with this have to endure hostility and suspicion from the police, who believe the victim- blaming myths surrounding sexual violence. One study found that officers “massively pre-judge the credibility of the victim. We investigate the victim more than the offence itself.” Facing police who are all too eager to discredit them and brand them as deceitful, the court process for sexual violence victims is an agonising and laborious one, with victims having the longest- ever waits on record for their cases to reach court.
To add insult to injury, throughout the process victims are continually questioned about their ordeal by the police, forcing them to relive the experience. At the end of the process, a tiny 1.6% of cases result in attackers being charged. Given all these factors, is it any wonder that so many victims fail to report their experiences in the first place, when confronted with such a painful, retraumatising and likely futile journey?
System rooted in misogyny
Our policing system is one whose very foundations are rooted in sexism and misogyny. Suella Braverman and her Tory cohorts are eager to use terms such as “policing by consent”, but in reality, the police readily use brutal violence to enforce the rules of our capitalist system. We only have to look at the history of the police to see this. As early as the beginning of the 20th century, the police savagely beat, kicked and battered suffragettes fighting for the right to vote. In our own century, we have seen how police behaviour led an initially peaceful vigil for Sarah Everard to devolve into ugly, shameful scenes, where police kettled mourners, shoved them to the ground and punched them without provocation. Far from protecting women as it claims, the police often presents more of a danger to them, as its officers commit acts of violence.
It is clear that the police cannot be trusted to reform itself; such reforms will never be enough when it is the entire system that is the problem. The purpose of the police force will always be to protect its corrupt officers, and the oppressive, patriarchal capitalist system whose interests they represent. Our police system must therefore be overhauled and replaced with a democratic system by and for workers, with control over who becomes a police officer to begin with and where they can be easily removed if they act against or mistreat workers.
Any inquiries into police mistreatment or violence should be carried out by trade unions, feminist and anti-racist organisations to ensure it is done properly and action is taken. Decisions should also be made by ordinary people about how resources are used – funding investigations into sexual assault and domestic abuse cases and supporting survivors rather than carrying out racist stop-and-searches or intimidating picket lines, for example.
It is vital that such a system operates within a wider socialist society, where wealth and resources are publicly owned and democratically planned by workers in their communities and in the interest of the majority. In the shorter term, workers and young people should use the occasion of International Women’s Day (8 March) to mobilise in protest against our misogynist and violent police, and overarching capitalist system. Following the death of Sarah Everard, we saw the encouraging growth of movements such as Reclaim The Streets. We need to build upon and strengthen these movements in order to mobilise in opposition to gender-based violence. Only by doing this can we forge a socialist society run in the interests of the majority, that will truly protect women’s welfare and safety.