Sarah Everard was kidnapped and murdered while walking near Clapham Common on March 3.
A serving police officer kidnapped and murdered Sarah Everard after accusing her of breaking the Covid-19 lockdown in a “false arrest”, a court has heard.
Wayne Couzens, 48, used his handcuffs and warrant card to snatch Ms Everard as she walked home from visiting a friend in Clapham, south London, on the evening of 3 March.
The sexual predator, who had clocked off from a 12-hour shift that morning, went on to rape and strangle the 33-year-old marketing executive then set fire to her body.
Ms Everard’s murder prompted national outrage and sparked protests at the rate of violence against women. And on Wednesday 29 September, feminist group Sisters Uncut held a protest outside of the Old Bailey.
What happened to Sarah Everard?
Scotland Yard launched an urgent inquiry after Ms Everard was reported missing by her boyfriend, Josh Lowth, on 4 March.
At about 9pm on 3 March, Ms Everard had set off on foot for the two-and-a-half mile journey home, from a friend’s house chatting with her boyfriend by mobile phone on the way.
A camera attached to a passing marked police car captured her walking alone at 9.32pm.
Just three minutes later, a bus camera appeared to capture the moment she was intercepted by Couzens in Balham, south London.
A week after she disappeared, Ms Everard’s remains were found in a woodland stream in Ashford, Kent, just metres from land owned by Couzens.
He has pleaded guilty to Ms Everard’s murder, kidnap and rape and appeared at the Old Bailey on Wednesday for the start of his sentencing.
He sat in the dock with his head bowed as prosecutor Tom Little QC opened the case, watched by Ms Everard’s family.
Mr Little said the disappearance of Ms Everard was one of the most widely publicised missing person investigations the country has ever seen.
After her body was discovered in woodland, it became summarised by the hashtag “she was just walking home”, he said.
But that did not completely describe what happened to Ms Everard, the court heard.
Mr Little said: “Whilst it is impossible to summarise what the defendant did to Sarah Everard in just five words, if it had to be done then it would be more appropriate to do so as deception, kidnap, rape, strangulation, fire.”
Couzens had worked on Covid patrols in late January this year, enforcing coronavirus regulations, so would have known what language to use to those who may have breached them.
He was said to be wearing his police belt with handcuffs and a rectangular black pouch, similar to a pepper spray holder, when he kidnapped Ms Everard.
Ms Everard was described by a former long-term boyfriend as “extremely intelligent, savvy and streetwise” and “not a gullible person”, the court heard.
He said he could not envisage her getting into a car with someone she did not know “unless by force or manipulation”, said the prosecutor.
Mr Little added: “The fact she had been to a friend’s house for dinner at the height of the early 2021 lockdown made her more vulnerable to and more likely to submit to an accusation that she had acted in breach of the Covid regulations in some way.”
Did anyone see Wayne Couzens apprehend Sarah Everard?
The court heard Ms Everard’s kidnapping took less than five minutes.
She was handcuffed at about 9.34pm, detained in Couzens’ hire car by 9.37pm and they were on their way to Kent a minute later, Mr Little said.
The court was shown CCTV of the defendant’s hire vehicle in Dover shortly after 11.30pm as he transferred his victim to his own car.
Couzens then drove to a remote rural area north-west of Dover which he knew well where he parked up and raped Ms Everard.
The court heard how a couple travelling home in a car witnessed the kidnapping.
A woman on the pavement appeared to have her left arm behind her back and was in the process of “giving her other arm behind her back” as a man in dark clothing handcuffed her, according to the witness.
Mr Little said: “The immediate impression the passenger formed was that she was witnessing an undercover police officer arresting a woman, whom she assumed ‘must have done something wrong’.”
The prosecutor added: “They were in fact witnessing the kidnapping of Sarah Everard. She was detained by fraud.
“The defendant using his warrant card and handcuffs as well as his other police issue equipment to affect a false arrest.”
Who is Wayne Couzens?
Wayne Couzens, was a serving police officer at the time of the murder. Days before the murder he had booked the hire of a Vauxhall Astra and bought a roll of self-adhesive film.
He used to work at his father’s garage in Dover before joining the Kent Special Constabulary at some point after 2002.
Couzens joined the Civil Nuclear Constabulary in 2011 before transferring to the Met in 2018.
Two years later he began working for the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Command as an authorised firearms officer at diplomatic premises around central London.
He was not able to carry a gun after damaging a finger in a drilling injury in July last year and carried out office-based work in late 2020, but was assessed as being fit for full duties in December.
The court heard how the officer planned in advance by booking a hire car for between 5pm on 3 March to 9.30am the next day.
Mr Little said there was “no credible alternative explanation for his need to hire a car other than to use that car to kidnap and rape a lone woman”.
“His movements were consistent with the defendant looking for, or hunting, for a lone young female to kidnap and rape, which is precisely what he did,” the prosecutor said.
CCTV footage showed Couzens raising his left arm holding a warrant card before handcuffing Ms Everard and putting her into the hire car.
The married father-of-two was described as a “family man” by colleagues in the force, who were said to have noticed nothing unusual about his behaviour.
But he had set up a profile on dating website match.com on 2 December last year, using his middle name “Antony”, giving a false date of birth, and claiming that he was separated, had no children and lived in Canterbury.
He was also in contact with an escort with the username “escourtbabygirl”, the court heard.
Couzens burned Ms Everard’s body in a refrigerator in an area of woodland he owned in Hoads Wood, near Ashford, Kent, before dumping the remains in a nearby pond.
Just days later, amid extensive publicity about her disappearance, he took his family on a day out to the woods, allowing his children to play close by.
How was Wayne Couzens caught?
After abducting Ms Everard, Couzens drove out of London, arriving in the area of Tilmanstone, near Deal, at 1am.
Investigators tracked the route of the car using CCTV and ANPR cameras, and identified the driver as a serving officer through the car hire firm.
Couzens had used his personal details and bank card to make the booking, picking up the Vauxhall Astra on the afternoon of the abduction and returning it the next morning.
In the days that followed, Couzens reported that he was suffering from stress and did not want to carry a firearm any more, according to a case summary.
On 8 March, the day he was due back on duty, he called in sick.
Couzens was arrested the following day after police trawled through some 1,800 hours of CCTV footage.
Police waited for two hours before moving in to detain Couzens, a firearms-trained parliamentary and diplomatic protection officer, at his Deal home, during which time he had wiped his phone.
During an emergency police interview, Couzens falsely claimed he had been forced to pick up a woman and hand her over to a gang after getting into financial problems.
What have the police said?
Ahead of the start of the two-day sentencing, Scotland Yard released a statement which read: “We are sickened, angered and devastated by this man’s crimes which betray everything we stand for.
“Our thoughts are with Sarah’s family and her many friends. It is not possible for us to imagine what they are going through.
“We recognise his actions raise many questions and concerns but we will not be commenting further until the hearing is complete.”
Couzens was sacked from the Metropolitan Police in a misconduct hearing after being convicted.
The hearing, chaired by Assistant Commissioner Helen Ball, dismissed Couzens without notice.
Speaking at the time Ms Ball said Couzens had “betrayed” everything the police stood for.
She said: “All of us in the Met are horrified, sickened and angered by this man’s crimes.
“Sarah was a young woman who had her life cruelly snatched away from her. I know she is sorely missed by so many people and our thoughts remain with her loved ones.
“We are so profoundly sorry.”
The police watchdog received a string of referrals relating to the Couzens case, with 12 officers being investigated.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) is investigating whether the Met failed to investigate two allegations of indecent exposure relating to Couzens in February, just days before the killing.
Kent Police are also being investigated over their response to a third allegation of indecent exposure in 2015.
What happened next?
Lord Justice Fulford handed down a whole life term to Couzens on Thursday, meaning he will die in jail. Life imprisonment is a sentence which lasts until the death of the prisoner, although in most cases they will be eligible for early release after serving a minimum term.
Whole life terms are rare, but in exceptional cases a judge may make that order. The Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe and Moors murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley were among those serving whole life terms.