Police Action Lawyers Group
Statement by Police Action Lawyers Group in the wake of Sarah Everard’s murder and the failures of the Henry/Smallman investigation
The 40 law firms, barristers and rights organisations who comprise the Police Action Lawyers Group have been representing individuals for over 30 years in challenging the failures, misconduct and brutality of police forces across the country.
We have and continue to represent thousands of women and girls who have been wrongly detained and/or assaulted by police, who have been spied on and deceived by police, who have reported exploitation, violence and sexual assault to the police only to be dismissed, and women who have been mistreated by a criminal justice system which does not seem capable of accommodating their needs. We also represent the families of women and girls who were murdered by men following police inaction or who died in custody because of poor care.
The threads running through all of these cases – and through every police force we litigate against – are endemic misogyny and casual sexism, more often than not compounded by other forms of discrimination: race, disability, sexual orientation etc. Nowhere was this more graphically demonstrated than in the police behaviour following the murders of two black women Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman on 6 June 2020. When police forces fail women in this way they, consciously or otherwise, reinforce and uphold oppressive patriarchal structures in our society at large.
The harrowing circumstances of Sarah Everard’s death will have struck a chord with every one of the families we represent. For us as lawyers, it combined some of the worst features of our individual cases into one shocking whole. The man who so brutally murdered Sarah Everard was only able to do so because he was a police officer. He was also the product of a long-standing and deep-rooted organisational culture which routinely dismisses and denigrates women. That culture is legitimised and perpetuated by senior officers who take no action, and is rewarded by government in handing over yet greater powers while at the same time proposing to undermine the only redress available in most cases: the Human Rights Act, and by continuing to erode publicly funded access to justice.
Tinkering with a fundamentally broken system by reviewing disciplinary processes will not fix it. The hundreds of recommendations on improving policing, going back to Stephen Lawrence’s murder, have not fixed it. An inquiry without statutory powers cannot hope to fix it. The inquiry now proposed must be placed on a statutory footing, must draw on the huge range of expert voices and existing work in this area (eg the recent HMICFRS report on policing VAWG), and must unflinchingly examine why police forces continue to fail women and girls.
From and endorsed by: the lawyers of the Police Action Lawyers Group
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