Suspected human remains have been found during the search for a woman believed to have been kidnapped and murdered by a London police officer – a case that has sent shockwaves through the United Kingdom and raised questions about women’s safety.
Sarah Everard, 33, vanished shortly after 21:00 GMT while walking home from a friend’s apartment in south London on March 3.
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On Wednesday, London police chief Cressida Dick said officers investigating her disappearance had found “what appears to be human remains” in a woodland near Ashford, a town in the neighbouring county of Kent.
“At this early stage we are not able to confirm any identity, and indeed that may take us some considerable time,” Dick, the head of the Metropolitan Police Service (Met), said.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “shocked and deeply saddened” by the developments.
“Like the whole country my thoughts are with her family and friends. We must work fast to find all the answers to this horrifying crime,” he tweeted.
The Met Police confirmed one of its officers, a man in his 40s, was arrested on suspicion of kidnap and murder late on Tuesday in Kent as part of the probe.
A woman in her 30s was also arrested at the same location on suspicion of assisting an offender.
Both remain in custody.
The officer, who works for the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Command, had not been on duty the night Everard disappeared.
Police did not say whether the man, who is also being questioned about a separate allegation of indecent exposure, knew Everard.
‘Shock and anger’
Everard’s case also drew widespread attention on social media, with politicians and public figures expressing outrage.
Marsha De Cordova, Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities for the opposition Labour Party, tweeted: “Every woman should be able to walk home at night free from any fear or anxiety.”
My thoughts and prayers are with family, friends and loved ones of Sarah Everard.
Every woman should be able to walk home at night free from any fear or anxiety.
— I Can’t Breathe…Marsha de Cordova MP (@MarshadeCordova) March 10, 2021
Mandu Reid, leader of the Women’s Equality Party, a feminist movement, said the arrest of a police officer made the case “all the more frightening” and called for the investigation to be taken over by a separate force.
“Police cannot be trusted to investigate their own when it comes to allegations of violence against women and girls,” Reid tweeted.
#SarahEverard was just trying to walk home.
Alongside so many others I campaign to end male violence against women and girls week in, week out.
Yet every time another woman or girl is abused, attacked or murdered it hurts more, not less. You never get used to it.
— Mandu Reid (@ManduReid) March 10, 2021
Journalist Rosamund Irwin said more needed to be done to “end male violence”.
“That could have been any of us,” she tweeted. “There’s so much emphasis on teaching girls how ‘to be safe’ as though that will protect us, when really we need a different conversation: how to end male violence.”
Like so many women on here, I‘m thinking about Sarah Everard, her family and friends. That could have been any of us. There’s so much emphasis on teaching girls how “to be safe” as though that will protect us, when really we need a different conversation: how to end male violence
— Rosamund Urwin (@RosamundUrwin) March 10, 2021
Other female social media users also shared their experiences of sexual harassment and assault, and the fear and anxiety they felt in public alone, particularly while walking home late at night.
‘The ultimate fear’
Dick sought to offer reassurance, saying it was “incredibly rare” for a woman to be abducted.
But some suggested the police chief had missed the point with those comments.
“We know how rare street abduction and stranger homicide are. That is the ultimate fear, but there’s everything below that level too. Being followed, being catcalled, being touched by a stranger. These things are not uncommon and we never know when one might lead to the other,” one Twitter user posted.
In the wake of Everard’s disappearance, in a bid to highlight the challenges faced by women, a “Reclaim These Streets” vigil was organised for Saturday in London.
The case coincidentally coincided with the publication of a report by UN Women UK that showed virtually all young women in the UK have been subjected to sexual harassment.
The group’s report was based on a survey of more than 1,000 women nationwide which saw 97 percent of women aged 18-24 say they had been sexually harassed.
Among women aged 25 and older, 80 percent of respondents said they had been harassed in public.