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PC who investigated Wayne Couzens receives hate messages

Ex-officer barred for misconduct says she been made a “scapegoat” for failings over Sarah Everard’s murder.

A former Met Police officer found guilty of gross misconduct over her investigation into indecent exposure by Sarah Everard’s killer says she has received hundreds of hate messages.

Some messages blamed Samantha Lee for Ms Everard’s death, saying she had blood on her hands.

Ms Lee told the BBC she has been made a “scapegoat” for wider Met failings.

An inquiry will examine the circumstances leading to the murder, the Met said.

Ms Lee’s investigation was carried out on 3 March 2021, just hours before Couzens kidnapped Ms Everard in Clapham, south-west London.

Ms Lee, who has been barred from serving in the police again, told Newsnight: “I think I’m seen as this horrendous, awful person that has let an absolutely heinous crime take place. And I’m being looked at as if I’m just as guilty as what Couzens is.

“But literally, there was nothing that I could have done that would have changed the outcome.”

She added: “I don’t want any sympathy at all. All I want is people just to understand that there is nothing that I could have done.”

Ms Lee, 29, says it feels “highly unfair” that she has been a public focus of the inquiries into the Met’s action, adding: “It’s been a case of let’s go in at the bottom rather than going up higher at the top.”

The Met said that Ms Lee’s disciplinary hearing was not about her handling of the investigation of Couzens but about her “honesty and integrity” during it.

‘Horrendous crime’

She revealed some of the most abusive messages sent to her on social media have been reported to police, including ones “saying that it should have been me that was kidnapped and murdered”.

Ms Lee said she felt she was being “blamed completely for the horrendous murder of Sarah Everard.”

“The only person that should be blamed for that awful, awful, horrendous crime” should be Wayne Couzens, she added.

Couzens, a former Met Police officer, kidnapped and murdered Sarah Everard soon after exposing himself to staff at a McDonald’s branch in Swanley, Kent, on 14 and 27 February 2021.

In March this year, Couzens was sentenced to 19 months in prison after admitting three counts of indecent exposure.

He was already serving life behind bars for the kidnap, rape and murder of Ms Everard.

Ms Lee, from Bromley, south-east London, left the Met last year.

On Tuesday this week, a disciplinary panel chairman criticised Ms Lee’s “lamentably poor” investigation into the incidents; had she still been a serving officer, she would have been dismissed.

The former officer was found to have failed to make “the correct investigative inquiries” when she went to the McDonald’s Couzens exposed himself in.

The restaurant’s manager told the hearing he had shown Ms Lee CCTV of Couzens where his number plate was clearly visible, and showed her receipts which recorded the last four digits of his payment card.

Ms Lee said he had told her the footage had already been deleted, a claim the hearing was told was a lie to cover up her failure.

At the time of Ms Lee’s investigation into Couzens, police carrying out number plate checks would not have known whether the vehicle owner was an officer.

Ms Lee says the Met was also treating indecent exposure as a “low level” offence and that is why she was not asked to investigate immediately.

‘Thrown under bus’

Ms Lee admits making mistakes in her probe but still insists she did not lie about not viewing the CCTV footage, suggesting the McDonald’s manager had showed the images to another officer, not her.

“I should have probably asked a lot more questions around the CCTV and done a more thorough investigation,” she said.

“I’ve gone over in my head so many times… if I’d have done that, would the awful events that happened that day have been prevented and [that] just wouldn’t happen.”

She added the revelation that Couzens was a police officer was “traumatising for myself, especially because I was linked to the case”.

Ms Lee said the police should have sent someone to investigate sooner, “there was definitely opportunities that were missed, but not by myself. I’d say that’s more by the organisation”.

She also highlighted an indecent exposure incident from 2015 that has been linked to Couzens, that has not been investigated by Kent Police.

“I definitely feel like it’s more of a case of I’ve been sort of I want to use the term scapegoat, but it’s sort of like I’ve been treated completely unfairly as a woman PC…

“I’m just someone who’s able to be thrown under the bus to go, right?

“‘She’s done a terrible job. We’ve got rid of this officer. Now we can brush this under the table and pretend like it never happened.’ And rather than making the genuine changes that I believe would have actually prevented this.”

Image source, Everard family

Asked to comment, the Met referred the BBC to a statement from Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stuart Cundy, issued after the disciplinary hearing concluded.

He said that the panel found Ms Lee’s actions “fell below the professional standards expected of her. As the panel has made clear, honesty and integrity are fundamental to policing and our relationship with the public.

“The purpose of the gross misconduct hearing was not to decide whether Wayne Couzens’ future offending could have been prevented.”

He added: “Fundamentally, I am sorry that Couzens was not arrested before he went on to murder Sarah Everard and we continue to think of her loved ones.

“We know that in recent years the Met’s response to violence against women and girls has not been good enough. We are working hard with survivors, communities and partners to improve our response and rebuild trust.”

You can watch the full interview with Samantha Lee on Newsnight on BBC Two at 22:30 BST, or catch-up later on iPlayer (UK only)

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