Wayne Couzens: police could have identified ex-PC who raped and murdered Sarah Everard as sex offender in 2015

Wayne Couzens was reported for indecent exposure in 2015 - with the incident investigated by a sergeant who knew the brother of the now-convicted rapist and murderer.

Police failed to arrest Wayne Couzens for indecent exposure six years before he murdered Sarah Everard - despite an officer having his name, address, and the registration of a car he had allegedly used to flash a pedestrian.

The killer PC flashed his warrant card to kidnap the 33-year-old marketing executive in March 2021, before raping her and hiding her body in the Kent woodland in a case which shocked the nation. However, a police watchdog report has now revealed that Couzens was reported for flashing in 2015 - six years before he killed Ms Everard.

Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) found Couzens was reported to Kent Police for driving around Dover whilst naked from the waist down - with a witness saying his penis was visible. The same witness provided comprehensive details about the flashing incident, including the exact location, a description of the driver, and the car’s make, model, colour, and registration.

The car was registered to Couzens, leading to his name being broadcast via radio to all officers on duty at the time. The sergeant from Kent Police who investigated the case even accessed a file that revealed Couzens had previously been a special constable at the force, but no further action was taken - with the officer concluding that the offender was “unknown”.

It has since been revealed that the police sergeant who investigated the case, known as X, had previously worked with Couzens at Ashford Police station - and knew his brother. X faced a misconduct hearing in April 2023, but the panel found that while the officer had “breached the standards of professional behaviour”, it “did not amount to misconduct”.

Sarah Everard was kidnapped, raped, and murdered by Wayne Couzens, who was a serving Met Police officer at the time. Credit: PASarah Everard was kidnapped, raped, and murdered by Wayne Couzens, who was a serving Met Police officer at the time. Credit: PA
Sarah Everard was kidnapped, raped, and murdered by Wayne Couzens, who was a serving Met Police officer at the time. Credit: PA

The June 2015 case is the earliest known missed opportunity to catch Couzens, who committed a series of sex crimes before he kidnapped, raped, and murdered Ms Everard in March 2021.

It was already known that the Met Police, which Couzens joined in 2018, had missed chances to identify Couzens as a danger to the public - but it is now clear that other forces also failed to identify the sex offender. Yesterday (23 May), former Met PC Samantha Lee was found guilty of gross misconduct over her dishonesty about her investigation into other flashing incidents committed by Couzens.

Wayne Couzens. Credit: PAWayne Couzens. Credit: PA
Wayne Couzens. Credit: PA

A panel heard that she carried out an “unprofessional”, “sloppy” and “lamentably poor” investigation into reports of Couzens exposing himself to female staff at a drive-through McDonalds in Kent on 14 and 27 February 2021 - and failed to secure CCTV footage when she visited the fast-food restaurant on 3 March, just hours before Couzens abducted Ms Everard while she was walking home along Clapham Common in south-west London.

Meanwhile, the sergeant who “breached the standards of professional behaviour” while investigating Couzens’ flashing incident in Dover in 2015 has been granted anonymity. Officer X faced a misconduct hearing, but was cleared of misconduct.

Instead, X, who will continue to serve at Kent Police, will undergo “reflective practice” - which the IOPC described as a “formal process reflected in legislation” - after the watchdog deemed this “the most appropriate outcome”.

Wayne Couzens: a timeline of events

When the convicted rapist and murdered joined the police - and all the chances police missed to stop him

2002: Couzens joins the Kent Police Special Constabulary.

2011: Couzens joins the Civil Nuclear Constabulary. It has been reported that while he worked there, colleagues nicknamed him “The Rapist”. 

June 2015: Couzens is reported for indecent exposure. Kent Police take no further action, despite having his name, address, and car registration. 

February 2020: Couzens joins the Met Police’s Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Unit. A report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary found that he was not properly vetted at the time.

February 2021: Couzens is linked to two allegations of indecent exposure at a McDonald’s in London. Former Met PC Samantha Lee carried out a “lamentably poor” investigation, where she failed to secure CCTV of the incident just hours before Couzens kidnapped Ms Everard.

3 March 2021: Couzens collects a hire car at 4:45pm. CCTV then captures him at a Tesco Superstore in Kensington, west London, at 8pm, buying a pack of 14 hair bands. He then goes on to kidnap, rape, and murder Ms Everard.

6 March 2021: Couzens emails his supervisor that he no longer wants to carry a firearm. Later, he orders rubble bags, a tarpaulin, and a bungee cargo, which he is understood to have used to hide Ms Everard’s body. 

7 March 2021: Couzens takes his wife and children on a family trip to Hoads Wood, close to where Everard’s body was discovered, allowing his children to play in relatively close proximity to where Ms Everard’s body was. 

9 March 2021: After calling in sick to work the day before, Couzens is arrested at his home in Deal, Kent. In a short interview, he concocts a story about being threatened by a gang. 

10 March 2021: A body is discovered in a wooded area in Ashford, Kent, around 100 metres away from land owned by Couzens. The body is later formally identified as Ms Everard. 

12 March 2021: Couzens is charged and pleads guilty to the kidnap and rape of Ms Everard. On 9 July, Couzens pleads guilty to murder too.

During the hearing, a panel heard that police officer X closed the investigation into Couzens after the reliability of the witness was questioned - and the witness then decided he did not want to be further involved in the police investigation. The panel commented that X could have contacted and interviewed the suspect.

“By doing so,” the report wrote, “appropriate intelligence recording may have been made against the police national database to link the suspect to subsequent investigations. This could have affected future vetting applications but there is no certainty this alone would have prevented further offending.”

The IOPC clarified that as the investigating sergeant did not log Couzens as a suspect on a national database, this meant the indecent exposure may not have been considered relevant by the Met Police’s vetting unit when he transferred to the London force. The report added: “Although this would have been unknown to PS X, it is relevant to consider in terms of the harm caused by their actions.”

The watchdog has therefore called for a new national system that means when criminal allegations are made against serving police officers, these are made known and flagged to forces in England and Wales.

IOPC Director of Operations Amanda Rowe said: “Our investigations into the Met and Kent Police’s handling of the indecent exposure allegations highlighted there is no system in place to alert forces when a police officer becomes a crime suspect. We believe this needs to change. It may not have prevented Couzens from committing his crimes, but if it is combined with the change in culture that policing recognises is necessary, it could help prevent it from happening again in the future.”

She added that the IOPC’s “sympathies remain with Sarah’s family for the heartbreak and anguish they have endured.” Couzens is currently facing a whole life-sentence for the rape and murder of Ms Everard.

What have Kent Police said?

Deputy Chief Constable Peter Ayling said: "The kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard was a watershed moment for policing in this country, and we share in the collective grief for the loss of Sarah and are disgusted that a serving police officer could commit such horrific crimes against her. Our deepest sympathies remain with Sarah’s family, friends and everyone else affected by her death.

"Whilst the Kent Police officer who investigated the 2015 incident in Dover could never have predicted what Wayne Couzens would go on to do six years later, the investigation should still have been carried out to a better standard. On this occasion the officer’s actions did not amount to misconduct and a Reflective Practice Review Process is a proportionate outcome.

"It is important to note that we have revised our approach to investigating reports of indecent exposures, recognising the severe impact it can have on victims. Since 2017 all investigations are carried out by specialist officers from our Vulnerability Investigation Teams, overseen by a senior detective and reviewed by analysts to identify linked crimes or trends.

"We continue to review and learn from our processes to ensure any areas of improvement are identified and acted upon. Tackling violence against women and girls is Kent Police’s highest priority and we remain committed to doing everything we can to ensure our communities are as safe as possible and that anyone who poses a risk to members of the public is identified and held to account."