Home Office breaks pledge to fund sex-crime research after Everard murder

The government has failed to fund research into the escalation of sex crimes, despite promising to do so in the wake of the kidnapping, rape and murder of Sarah Everard.

In 2021, the Home Office pledged to “take forward work looking at the escalation of sexual offending” as part of its plan to tackle violence against women and girls. The plan, which had the tagline “the safety of women and girls across the country is our priority”, was informed by 180,000 public submissions after Everard was killed by serving police officer Wayne Couzens.

Couzens repeatedly exposed himself to women before murdering Everard, and campaigners suggest this pattern of offending is common. “We know indecent exposure is a gateway to more horrific crimes,” Keir Starmer told parliament last week.

But despite declaring its strategy would “honour” women and girls, bringing “real and lasting change”, the government is yet to produce sufficient research. A leading criminal justice academic has told the Observer that her funding request for research had been rejected by two government agencies.

“Anecdotal evidence suggests that exposure is a possible starting point for offending escalation,” said Prof Sarah Kingston, from the Criminal Justice and Policing department at the University of Central Lancashire. “But we don’t know with any certainty.

“I would love to do further work to help police better support victims, to prevent this happening to other people.” However, she said her requests for public funding had been rejected.

The Police Star fund, which supports research that aims to stimulate innovation in policing, refused to fund Kingston and Lancashire Police’s project, entitled “Non-contact to contact offences: Using police data to examine the links between sexual exposure and other sexual offences.” A spokesperson for the Star Fund said the main reason was that similar research was being funded, in the form of two projects concerned with domestic violence escalation, and that the pitch also did not meet other criteria.

The government-funded Economic and Social Research Council also rejected two applications for this research, telling the Observer it was due to a “rigorous peer review process by relevant independent experts from across academia and business”.

Last month the Angiolini inquiry into Couzens’s crimes recommended that the government commission research to “establish if there is an evidence-based link between active masturbatory indecent exposure and subsequent contact offending”.

Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said: “Three years ago, the then-home secretary promised to act on indecent exposure, but … it just never materialised.

“Labour has been warning for years that indecent exposure and other activity sometimes wrongly referred to as ‘low level’ is often a warning sign that an abuser will go on to commit further and more serious sexual abuse and assault. Missed opportunities to take [Couzens’s] indecent exposure seriously led to tragic outcomes that must be learned from.”

She added that her party was urging the government to implement the Angiolini inquiry’s recommendation to begin the research.

The Home Office said: “The government is working closely with policing partners to consider the findings and recommendations made by the Angiolini inquiry and will respond fully in due course.” It also cited the Ministry of Justice report into escalation, saying it “reinforces commitments outlined” in the 2021 strategy, adding “we remain dedicated to improving police efforts to address these heinous crimes”.