IOPC calls for national system to flag when an officer is under criminal investigation in the wake of damning Wayne Couzens ‘failures’ after 11 officers from four different forces faced disciplinary proceedings
- The watchdog says it will raise the issue with the National Police Chiefs Council
The police watchdog has called on forces to be made aware of when criminal allegations are made against serving officers after a series of failures surrounding Wayne Couzens.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) says a national system should be introduced after reviews into the Met’s handling of two allegations of indecent exposure by Couzens in 2021 and Kent Police’s handling of a similar allegation in 2015.
Couzens would go on to kidnap, rape and murder Sarah Everard three days after the Met was informed he had allegedly indecently exposed himself in a McDonald’s in Swanley in February 2021.
Today a police disciplinary panel found for PC Samantha Lee was guilty of gross misconduct over her failures in the initial investigation into the allegations involving Couzens.
The panel found that Lee, who was dubbed ‘Officer Naughty’ after quitting the force to open an OnlyFans porn account, spent only 20 minutes interviewing the restaurant manager and did not progress CCTV checks that would have linked Couzens to the scene.
Wayne Couzens, pictured, was alleged to have indecently exposed himself three days before kidnapping, raping and murdering Sarah Everard
Former Met police constable Samantha Lee, pictured, was found to have committed gross misconduct in her initial investigation into Couzens’ indecent exposure
The IOPC also found last year that officers from Kent Police failed to follow all reasonable lines of enquiry after a report that a motorist – who turned out to be Couzens – exposed himself to a pedestrian in 2015.
The watchdog said this evening it wants a national system brought into place that would make sure police forces are informed when serving officers have criminal allegations made against them.
It said it had already told the Met to consider doing this, as well as improve its initial investigation of sexual offences, but will also bring the suggestion before the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC).
IOPC Director of Operations Amanda Rowe said: ‘Wayne Couzens’ horrific crimes appalled the nation, sent shockwaves through the policing world and deeply impacted on trust and confidence in the police service, particularly from women.
‘Our investigations into the Met and Kent Police’s handling of the indecent exposure allegations highlighted there is no system in place to alert forces when a police officer becomes a crime suspect.
‘We believe this needs to change. It may not have prevented Couzens from committing his crimes, but if it is combined with the change in culture that policing recognises is necessary, it could help prevent it from happening again in the future. That’s why we’ll be exploring this possibility of this with the NPCC later this week.
‘We have also been working closely with the Angiolini Inquiry, sharing evidence to inform its work looking at cultural issues within policing and addressing the broader concerns around women’s safety in public highlighted by Sarah Everard’s death.
‘Our sympathies remain with Sarah’s family for the heartbreak and anguish they have endured. We have discussed our reports and findings with them.’
Ex-PC Samantha Lee, pictured here outside her disciplinary hearing in Southwark on May 15, told a misconduct panel she was not aware she was the lead officer in the investigation into Couzens’ alleged indecent exposure at a McDonald’s restaurant
Couzens was a serving Met officer when he kidnapped and murdered Sarah Everard
In March of this year, Couzens was sentenced to 19 months in prison after admitting three counts of indecent exposure.
READ MORE HERE: ‘Officer Naughty’ Ex-Met policewoman with OnlyFans porn account who failed to properly investigate Wayne Couzens’ flashing and then lied about it
He was already serving life behind bars for kidnapping Ms Everard as she walked home through Clapham, south London, on March 3, 2021 and then murdering her.
The third indecent exposure incident relates to when Couzens exposed himself to a female cyclist on a Kent country lane in November 2020.
A misconduct hearing into the actions of PC Lee found she failed to make ‘the correct investigative inquiries’ over two incidents when Couzens exposed himself to female members of staff at a McDonald’s restaurant in Swanley, Kent, on February 14 and 27, 2021.
Lee attended the restaurant on March 3 and interviewed manager Sam Taylor, hours before Sarah Everard was kidnapped, raped and murdered by the serving Metropolitan Police firearms officer.
Lee was also found to have been dishonest about her actions when later questioned about the interview, claiming that she believed that CCTV at the restaurant was deleted automatically so there would be no footage of Couzens or the offence.
A simple computer check of the CCTV would have revealed Couzens was the registered owner of the black SEAT Exeo and given his home address.
Lee had told the misconduct hearing that she did not know she was in charge of the case and went on leave after the visit, assuming someone else would check it out further ‘in a few days’.
She told the hearing that she had been ‘shocked’ after Ms Everard’s murder to learn she had responsibility for investigating Couzens’ earlier offences.
And she denied being lazy after being accused of carrying out ‘a lamentably poor and rushed investigation’, failing to acquire CCTV and spending just 15 minutes at the restaurant.
But panel chairman Darren Snow found that her dishonesty amounted to gross misconduct, and that had Lee still been a serving officer, she would have been dismissed from the force.
Couzens was sentenced to 19 months in prison in March this year after admitting three counts of indecent exposure. He was already serving a whole life tariff for murder
Couzens is currently serving a whole life term for the abduction, rape and murder of Ms Everard, 33, in March 2021
Court artist sketch of Couzens appearing at the Old Bailey in March via video link from HMP Frankland
In a separate investigation, completed in May 2022, the IOPC found a case to answer for misconduct against a Kent Police sergeant for failing to follow all reasonable lines of enquiry after it was reported that a motorist had indecently exposed himself to a pedestrian in 2015.
The watchdog said it gathered evidence that showed that while the man who reported the incident did not want to support the investigation, the officer did not carry out CCTV enquiries or seek to identify further witnesses; and did not contact Couzens to establish if he was still the registered keeper of the car allegedly involved, and where he was at the time.
In April this year Kent Police held a misconduct meeting for the sergeant who was found to have breached police standard for duties and responsibilities but that it did not amount to misconduct.
It was decided that he would undergo reflective practice, including training on sexual offences and input on investigative processes.
Ms Rowe added: ‘PC Lee has now been held accountable for her actions and as a result of all of our investigations linked to Wayne Couzens, a total of 11 officers from four different forces have faced disciplinary proceedings.
‘Two of those received custodial sentences for sending grossly offensive messages via WhatsApp, seven were dismissed or would have been dismissed if still serving, two received final written warnings and two received reflective practice.’
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