Sarah Everard: UK police officer gets life term for rape, murder

Wayne Couzens abducted Sarah Everard on March 3 while she was walking home from a friend’s house in south London.

Sarah Everard
Everard's case gripped the UK following her disappearance, triggering a national conversation about women’s safety on the streets [File: Metropolitan Police/AFP]

A British court has handed the police officer who kidnapped, raped and murdered Sarah Everard a whole life sentence without parole.

Wayne Couzens, 48, abducted Everard on March 3 while she was walking home from a friend’s house in south London. He had pleaded guilty to murder, rape and kidnap.

Thursday’s sentencing at London’s Central Criminal Court means Couzens, who was part of the Metropolitan Police (MET) service’s elite diplomatic protection unit at the time of Everard’s killing, will never be eligible for release from prison.

Reading the sentence, Justice Adrian Fulford described the circumstances of the murder as “grotesque” and said Couzens had demonstrated “no evidence of genuine contrition”.

He said the seriousness of the case was so “exceptionally high” that it warranted a whole life order, the most severe punishment available in the UK.

Fulford said Couzens, who was present in court on Thursday, had gone “hunting a lone female to kidnap and rape” on the evening of Everard’s abduction having plotted his crime in “unspeakably” grim detail beforehand.

“The defendant had planned well in advance … what was to occur and when he encountered Sarah Everard all that was missing up to that point was his victim,” he added.

‘Her death leaves a yawning chasm’

On Wednesday, at the outset of Couzens’s two-day sentencing hearing, the court heard how he had tricked 33-year-old Everard into his car under the pretext of a false arrest.

He accused her of breaking COVID-19 lockdown rules, then handcuffed and arrested her before driving her far outside of London. Couzens later raped and killed her. He then burned Everard’s body.

Everard’s remains were found in woodland in Ashford, Kent, about 60 miles (nearly 100km) southeast of London, a week after she went missing.

Members of Everard’s family attended the court sessions.

On Wednesday, they spoke of the impact of her death.

“No punishment that you receive will ever compare to the pain and torture that you have inflicted on us,” her father, Jeremy, told the court.

Her mother, Susan, said she was “tormented” by her thoughts.

“I am repulsed by the thought of Wayne Couzens and what he did to Sarah. I am outraged that he masqueraded as a policeman in order to get what he wanted,” she told the court.

“Her death leaves a yawning chasm in our lives that cannot be filled.”

Calls for MET chief to resign

Everard’s case led to a national conversation about women’s safety as women recounted their own experiences and fears of being out alone at night.

The public trust in police has been shaken as questions were asked about how forces vet their officers.

Critics have decried the MET for not doing enough to protect women and girls, while the justice system has been accused of failing to tackle allegations of sexual violence.

After Couzens’s arrest, it emerged that he had been accused of indecent exposure at least twice before he murdered Everard.

On Thursday, opposition Labour Party legislator Harriet Harman renewed calls for Cressida Dick, the MET’s first female chief, to step down to allow for reforms, including the immediate suspension of officers accused of violence against women.

“Women need to be confident that the police are there to make them safe, not to put them at risk,” Harman wrote in a letter to Dick. “Women need to be able to trust the police, not to fear them.”

Dick has previously apologised to Everard’s family.

The MET said on Wednesday that it was “sickened, angered and devastated” by Couzens’s crimes.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies