London (AFP) -
Campaigners on Friday dumped a basket of 1,071 rotten apples outside the headquarters of Britain's biggest police force, in protest at officers accused of domestic abuse and violence against women and girls.
The Metropolitan Police said this week that 1,071 officers had been or are under investigation after one of its officers pleaded guilty to 24 rapes and a string of other sex offences.
That came less than two years after another serving officer with the London force kidnapped, raped and murdered a young woman, rocking public confidence in the police.
'We've been told time and time again that it's just one bad apple here and there, but this is actually a fundamental problem right across policing,' said Ruth Davison, head of the domestic abuse charity Refuge, which organised the protest.
'It has to be called out now because women's lives are at risk,' Davison told AFP.
She called for any officer facing formal allegations to be suspended while an investigation takes place.
'At the moment, as women and girls, how can we -- if we experience a crime -- feel confident to go the police knowing that the person we speak to may be a perpetrator?' she said.
The protest outside New Scotland Yard follows comments by the headteacher of a leading private London girls' school, who said pupils now had to be warned not to approach policemen.
Fionnuala Kennedy, head of Wimbledon High School, said the failings of the Met Police to 'stand between the vulnerable public and these officers wielding unchecked power' left her 'breathless with anger'.
She wrote on her school blog that teachers now had to tell pupils, 'Don't allow a lone policeman to approach you, at any time'.
Both David Carrick, who pleaded guilty this week, and Wayne Couzens, who murdered Sarah Everard in 2021 and was jailed for life, served in the Met's armed unit protecting MPs and foreign diplomats.
Carrick will be sentenced next month. After his court appearance on Monday, Met Police's Assistant Commissioner Louisa Rolfe said his case was 'sickening and horrific' and acknowledged that it had 'far-reaching consequences' for policing.
'I can't believe that we are operating in a context where we tell our children you may not be safe to approach the police,' said Davison.
'Trust and confidence is at an all-time low in the police. David Carrick was able to say to people 'I'm a police officer. No one will believe you, it'll be your word against mine'... which is why we have to have a zero-tolerance approach,' she said.