LONDON (Reuters) – A police officer was jailed for life on Thursday for abducting marketing executive Sarah Everard on a London street as she walked home then raping and murdering her in a case that shocked Britain and stirred protests over violence against women.
Wayne Couzens, 48, a serving London officer who had guarded diplomatic premises, had used his position to stop Everard, the Old Bailey court heard.
Couzens forced Everard, 33, into a hire car as she walked home after visiting a friend in south London on March 3. Her body was found in woodland around 50 miles (80 km) away in southeast England. A post-mortem concluded she had died as a result of compression of the neck.
His whole life sentence means he has no chance of parole.
“Nothing can make things better, nothing can bring Sarah back, but knowing he will be imprisoned forever brings some relief,” Everard’s family said in a statement.
“Wayne Couzens held a position of trust as a police officer and we are outraged and sickened that he abused this trust in order to lure Sarah to her death.”
The murder prompted public rallies and outpourings of anger from women who have recounted their own experiences and fears of being out alone at night.
One witness saw Everard being handcuffed before her abduction and police investigating the case said he may have used COVID-19 protocols as an excuse to falsely arrest her.
Judge Adrian Fulford said Couzens had long planned a violent sexual assault on a yet-to-be-selected victim who he intended to coerce into his custody.
“I have not the slightest doubt that the defendant used his position as a police officer to coerce her on a wholly false pretext into the car he had hired for this purpose,” Fulford said in sentencing remarks.
‘SHAME’ ON THE POLICE
The Metropolitan Police Force, which investigated the murder and for whom Couzens worked, said it was “sickened, angered and devastated” by his crimes. Commissioner Cressida Dick has apologised to Everard’s family.
“Our police are there to protect us – and I know that officers will share in our shock and devastation at the total betrayal of this duty,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.
Britain’s police watchdog is looking into police failures to investigate an indecent exposure incident linked to Couzens in 2015, and two further such allegations in February this year.
Opposition lawmaker Harriet Harman called on Dick to resign.
“Sarah Everard was simply walking home. Women must be able to trust the police not fear them. Women’s confidence in police will have been shattered,” Harman said on Twitter.
In a statement outside the court, Dick did not address questions about her own position.
“His actions were a gross, betrayal of everything policing stands for. What he did was unthinkable and appalling… this man has brought shame on the Met (police)” she said, describing it as “one of the most dreadful events in the 190-year history of the Metropolitan Police Service”.
“There are no words that can fully express the fury and overwhelming sadness that we all feel about what happened to Sarah. I am so sorry.”
Reporting by Alistair Smout; editing by Sarah Young, Paul Sandle, Guy Faulconbridge, Angus MacSwan and Alex Richardson
Photo Protesters gather outside Parliament square during a protest about the death of Sarah Everard, in London, Britain, 15 March 2021. The band stand in Clapham Common is where Sarah Everard was last seen alive on 03 March. She vanished while walking home from her friend’s house, subsequently police officer Wayne Couzens has been charged with the murder of Sarah Everard. EPA-EFE/NEIL HALL