A British law enforcement officer has been handed a life sentence without the possibility of parole for the abduction, rape, and murder of Sarah Everard, a case that ignited public outrage and sparked a national conversation about violence against women.
Prosecutors asserted that on March 3, Wayne Couzens, using his police identification and handcuffs, deceived Sarah Everard into getting into his car by pretending she had violated Covid-19 rules while she was walking to her London residence. Later that evening, he raped her and strangled her with his police belt.
In a packed courtroom, Lord Justice Adrian Fulford delivered the sentence, describing the 33-year-old marketing executive, Everard, as a “blameless victim of a grotesque executed series of offenses” and the case as “devastating, tragic, and wholly brutal.”
The judge pointed out that Couzens, aged 48, spent the entire evening of March 3 “hunting a lone female to kidnap and rape.” Couzens was dismissed from London’s Metropolitan Police in July after pleading guilty to the kidnapping, rape, and murder of Everard.
Throughout the two-day sentencing hearing, Couzens kept his head bowed and eyes closed in the dock, displaying what the judge characterized as “self-pity.”
Present in the court were Everard’s parents, Jeremy and Susan, her sister Kate, and many of her friends. The sentencing was conducted at London’s Old Bailey, the central criminal court of England and Wales.
A life sentence is mandatory for murder cases in the UK, but typically, the court determines the minimum period to be served before considering early release.
Couzens’ whole-life term is highly uncommon. According to data from the UK Ministry of Justice as of June 2021, there were only 60 whole-life prisoners among nearly 7,000 inmates serving life sentences.
Despite the efforts of Couzens’ defense lawyer, Jim Sturman QC, to argue for mitigating factors such as early guilty pleas, genuine remorse, underlying depression, and lack of prior convictions, the court concluded that the crimes warranted the imposition of a whole-life prison term.
Everard disappeared on the evening of March 3 after leaving a friend’s house in Clapham, south London. Her remains were discovered days later in woodland near Ashford, Kent, more than 50 miles away from where she was last seen.
Couzens was arrested at his home in Kent, near the location where Everard’s body was found. Due to his guilty pleas, there was no trial, but the sentencing hearing provided an opportunity for the prosecution to present the facts of the case and for Everard’s family to read impact statements.
Prosecutor Little summarized Couzens’ actions as “deception, kidnap, rape, strangulation, fire.” Eyewitnesses to the kidnapping on March 3 observed Couzens handcuffing Everard, who appeared compliant and with her head down, leading them to believe he was an undercover police officer making an arrest.
Everard remained alive for hours after her kidnapping and was later moved to Couzens’ own car that evening, indicating that he must have threatened her to prevent her from escaping or making a noise, according to the prosecutor. Prosecutors believe Everard died around 2.30 a.m. on March 4, several hours after being kidnapped.
During the court proceedings, Everard’s family demanded that Couzens, who spent the hearing with his eyes closed and head bowed, look at them while they read their statements.
Sarah’s mother, Susan, stated that her daughter “spent the last hours on this earth with the very worst of humanity. She lost her life because Wayne Couzens wanted to satisfy his perverted desires… He treated my daughter as if she was nothing and disposed of her as if she was rubbish. I am haunted by the horror of it.”
Everard’s disappearance prompted an outpouring of grief and anger on social media, with many women sharing their own experiences of sexual assault and shedding light on the epidemic of violence against women and girls in the UK.
According to data from the Femicide Census, an organization tracking violence against women and girls, on average, one woman is killed by a man every three days in the UK. The group criticizes the government’s new strategy to curb such violence, stating that it “shamefully ignores” femicide victims.
Although the government promised to take action to address violence against women and girls, activists and the opposition argue that the proposed measures were inadequate.
The recent murder of elementary school teacher Sabina Nessa has convinced many that nothing has changed since Everard was murdered six months ago.
London’s Metropolitan Police force faced criticism for its actions in the days following Everard’s disappearance. Women reported that police officers warned them not to go out alone during door-to-door inquiries, prompting some to comment that this approach perpetuates victim-blaming culture.
Meanwhile, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) is investigating whether the Met responded appropriately to a report of Couzens indecently exposing himself at a South London fast food restaurant in February. The IOPC is also looking into alleged failures by Kent Police to investigate another indecent exposure incident involving Couzens from 2015.
In a statement issued before Couzens’ sentencing, the Met expressed being “sickened, angered, and devastated by this man’s crimes, which betray everything we stand for.”