Can a single police officer arrest you? Your rights explained - as Wayne Couzens sentenced for Sarah Everard’s murder

Met commissioner Dame Cressida Dick faces demands for urgent action to restore the confidence of women in the police

An officer who strangled Sarah Everard with his police belt after kidnapping her under the guise of a fake arrest for breaking lockdown rules will die in jail.

Wayne Couzens, 48, was handed a whole life order for the “grotesque” killing of the 33-year-old marketing executive which shocked and outraged the nation.

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Lord Justice Fulford sentencing former police officer Wayne Couzens at the Old Bailey in London (image: PA/court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook)

The court had heard how Couzens used his Metropolitan Police-issue warrant card and handcuffs to snatch Ms Everard as she walked home from a friend’s house in Clapham, south London, on the evening of 3 March.

Police officer Wayne Couzens, 48, has been handed a whole life order at the Old Bailey for the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard (image: PA)

Couzens, who was a serving firearms officer at the time of the offence, had clocked off from a 12-hour shift at the American embassy that morning.

He now joins a string of 60 other UK criminals serving a whole-life order, according to Government figures to the end of June.

Dame Cressida Dick is now facing calls to resign in the wake of Sarah Everard’s murder amid demands for urgent action to restore the confidence of women in the police.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick arrives to make a statement outside of the Old Bailey Central Criminal Court, following the sentencing of British police officer Wayne Couzens (image: AFP via Getty Images)

So, can police officers work alone - and how can you check if police officers are on duty?

How to check police officers are on duty

Former Met Police Chief Superintendent Parm Sandhu has advised women to not get in unmarked cars.

Talking on Good Morning Britain, she reassured women that it’s “very, very unlikely” that there’s going to be another Wayne Couzens.

She said: “I would say if you are stopped by an undercover police officer who shows you a warrant card - and remember this man legitimately had a warrant card, you are allowed to carry a warrant card when you’re not on duty - I would say do not get into the car unless it’s a marked police vehicle.

“Ask to see the radio or ask them to call us and make sure they are on duty and doing what they are doing.

“If you are really concerned, call 999. Now, this cannot carry on forever. This has to be a short term issue, we have to get that trust and confidence back so that women who actually need our help can ask for our help.”

She added: “Having had this awful crime committed by a serving police officer using police equipment, using his warrant card and his handcuffs has absolutely destroyed trust and confidence.

“It’s going to take a long time to rebuild that confidence and there has to be certain measures taken to rebuild that confidence quickly.”

Can a single police officer work alone?

Yes, they can - and now The Met Police have announced it will no longer deploy plain clothes officers on their own after the sentencing hearing was told Couzens had used lockdown rules to falsely arrest Ms Everard during the abduction.

A survey carried out by the Office for National Statistics also said that lone working police officers are on the up.

According to the Home Office Police Front Line review changes to operating structures and reductions in team sizes have resulted in more lone working police officers, otherwise known as single-crewing.

During the review, which took place between 2018 and 2019, 244 police staff participated across 43 police forces in England and Wales.

Lone working also applied to Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) and other police staff such as investigators and scene of crime officers (SOCOs), both male and female, and applied in rural areas and urban areas.

Police Federation vice-chair Che Donald said: "When officers work alone they are undoubtedly exposed to increased risk, for them and the public, not to mention the detrimental effect on their overall health and well-being.”

If a single officer needs to assist a member of the public in danger, possibly involving another person putting them in this situation, it may be resolved in a safer and swifter manner if the officer had a colleague to help.

He added: "Forces are having their hands forced as they struggle to meet the increased demands placed on them, but this false economy of single crewing merely creates the illusion of public safety.

"Quite simply this is not sustainable and officers are suffering."

Can a single police officer make an arrest?

According to the Police Federation, a police officer can arrest anyone for their involvement, suspected involvement or attempted involvement in the commission of a criminal offence - and they have reasonable grounds for believing that the person’s arrest is necessary.

Police can also arrest a person if they are alone, despite their gender.

What is the new Met Police advice to women?

The force has issued advice to anyone who is concerned a police officer is not acting legitimately during an interaction.

They recommend people ask where the officer’s colleagues are, where they have come from, why they are there, and exactly why they are stopping or talking to them.

They also suggest verifying the police officer by asking to hear their radio operator or asking to speak to the radio operator themselves.

Finally, the Met Police is advising people to shout out to a passer-by, run into a house, knock on a door, wave a bus down, or call 999.

What are your rights if you’re arrested?

The police arrest procedure means they must follow a clear set of rules before taking someone into custody.

They must identify themselves as the police, tell the arrested person that they are being arrested, tell them what crime they think they’ve committed, explain why it’s necessary to arrest them and explain that they’re not free to leave.

If they’re under 18 the police should only make the arrest at school, if it’s unavoidable, and they must inform the headteacher.

The police must then contact the child’s parents, guardian or carer as soon as possible after their arrival at the police station.

For more information, you can read about arrest rights on the Government website.

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