Sarah Everard’s murderer Wayne Couzens has today been told that he will die behind bars after being sentenced at the Old Bailey.
The killer police officer had grovelled to a judge not to give him a whole life order, claiming that he deserved credit for sparing Sarah’s family the ordeal of a drawn-out trial.
The married father-of-two was a serving PC with the Metropolitan Police when he snatched Sarah, 33, as she walked home in Clapham, south London, on the evening of March 3.
His sentencing hearing heard how he pretended to arrest the marketing executive to lure her into his hire car just hours after finishing a shift, before he went on to rape and strangle her with a belt.
He then burned her body in a fly-tipped fridge in an area of woodland he owned in Hoads Wood, near Ashford, Kent, before dumping the remains in a nearby pond.
Lord Justice Fulford handed down the sentence after Couzens’ lawyer argued he should be spared a whole life term because he showed ‘genuine remorse’.
Defence barrister Jim Sturman QC said this client deserved a severe punishment for his ‘horrific crimes’, but argued there was little evidence to suggest a premeditated plan to murder.
He also asked for his guilty plea to be taken into consideration, arguing for a minimum 30-year sentence instead.
But Lord Fulford said in hatching a plot to rape and kidnap a lone woman, Couzens must have realised he may need to kill the victim.
He said a whole life order should only be used in exceptional circumstances, and that a police officer abusing his power to carry out such a horrendous crime could be classed as such.
Lord Fulford said: ‘First and foremost, Sarah Everard was a wholly blameless victim of a grotesquely executed series of circumstances that culminated in her death and the disposal of her body.
‘She was simply walking home.
‘I have not the slightest doubt that the defendant used his position as a police officer to coerce Sarah Everard into his car.’
Mr Fulford said he did take into account the defendant’s guilty pleas when considering his punishment, along with his ‘his hitherto good character, and the fact that he is a father of two children’.
But he acknowledged that the killer spent at least a month travelling to London to research how to commit his crimes.
‘The degree of preparation… is to be stressed,’ he said.
‘Couzens covered extensive distances in the capital, beyond doubt hunting a lone female to kidnap and rape. It follows that the defendant had planned well in advance, in all its unspeakably grim detail, what was to occur.
‘Sarah Everard’s state of mind, and what she had to endure would have been as bleak and agonising as it is possible to imagine. Ultimately, she was raped and strangled to death.’
The judge said he had to consider the ‘striking and moving’ impact statements from Sarah’s family, who condemned her killer as a ‘monster’ as they described the life-long torment and grief he has inflicted upon them.
The judge mentioned the ‘increasing sense of desperation’ felt by Sarah’s boyfriend, sister and parents after her disappearance, and the web of lies Couzens spun after he was arrested by police.
Lord Fulford said: ‘He ran an entirely false account in which he pretended he’d been acting under coercion from a gang. With apparent sincerity he gave police officers a wholly false story in which he claimed he was the victim of threats which made him concerned for his own safety.’
He said Couzens carried out ‘warped, selfish and brutal offending that was both sexual and homicidal’.
He added: ‘Notwithstanding his guilty pleas, in my view the defendant throughout sought to minimise his true responsibility for what occurred. At no stage has he offered any kind of full explanation as to what occurred in the fateful few hours.
‘I have concluded that in the planning and thought that went into the kidnap and rape the defendant must have realised he may well need to kill the woman he intended to kidnap and rape.’
Sarah’s friends and family wept sights of relief in the public gallery as her killer was sentenced.
Her mum Susan stared at Couzens in the dock as Lord Justice Fulford delivered his verdict.
Couzens stood in the dock shaking slightly, with his hands clasped in front of him, as the judge directly addressed him.
Lord Fulford said: ‘You kidnapped, raped and murdered Sarah Everard, having long planned a violent sexual assault on a yet-to-be-selected victim who you intended to coerce into your custody.
‘You have irretrievably damaged the lives of Sarah Everard’s family and friends.
‘You have eroded the confidence that the public are entitled to have in the police forces of England and Wales.
‘It is critical that every subject in this country can trust police officers when they encounter them and submit to their authority, which they are entitled to believe is being exercised in good faith.
‘You have utterly betrayed your family. Your wife and children, who on all the evidence, are entirely blameless will have to live with the ignominy of your dreadful crimes for the rest of their lives.’
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There are now calls for the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police to resign, saying ‘women’s confidence in police will have been shattered’.
The police watchdog has received a string of referrals relating to the Couzens case, with 12 police officers being investigated.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) said it was looking at 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 dating back to 2015.
The case has prompted renewed concern about police recruitment checks and why Couzens continued to hold a warrant card, despite the allegations of sexual offences.
Scotland Yard has said there was no information available at the time that would have altered the vetting decision in his case.
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 December 2 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’, and was known by some colleagues to enjoy violent porn.
Couzens was sacked by the Met after pleading guilty, who said they are ‘sickened, angered and devastated by this man’s crimes which betray everything we stand for.’
On Wednesday at the start of a two-day sentencing hearing, the court heard for the first time the full details of how Sarah met her death.
The prosecution presented a minute-by-minute breakdown of Couzens’ sick plan to rape and kidnap, his attempts to cover it up and the painstaking work of his colleagues to catch him.
Prosecutor Tom Little QC said the case could be summed up in five words: ‘Deception, kidnap, rape, strangulation, fire.’
He said Sarah was ‘extremely intelligent savvy and streetwise’ and would not have got into a stranger’s car unless by force or manipulation.
On the night she vanished, Couzens used emergency Covid powers to make a false arrest so he could force her into a rental car he had hired days earlier.
It is believed he did not use his own Seat car as it was ‘filthy and messy’ and would not have been credible as a car for an undercover officer.
After lying to his wife that he was going to work the night shift, Couzens drove around London in a repeat pattern looking for a lone female victim, when he came across Sarah.
Mr Little said: ‘That was the start of her lengthy ordeal, including an 80-mile journey whilst detained which was to lead first to her rape and then her murder.
‘At some point fairly soon after driving from the pavement on to the South Circular and having not gone to a police station, Sarah Everard must have realised her fate.
The court heard how Couzens’ heinous plan to kidnap and rape had been weeks in the making.
On February 10, the killer cop bought a ‘police standard-issue handcuff key with double locking pin’ from Amazon, costing him £2.49.
Then on February 28 he rented the Vauxhall hire car using his name, address and two different mobile phones.
Minutes later, he bought a 600mm by 100mm roll of self-adhesive film from Amazon that came with the guarantee of providing ‘a protective barrier from liquid spillages such as paint, varnish, oil and much more’.
Then on the night he abducted Sarah, the cop was seen on CCTV buying hairbands he used in the attack.
Mr Little said Couzens bought the pack from a Tesco store at 8pm ‘for the purposes of the planned kidnap and rape’.
Off duty, Couzens would wear his police belt with handcuffs while out walking the dog or taking his computer for repair.
On the day he snatched Sarah, two people had seen him wearing the kit and when asked about the equipment in a computer hardware shop, he joked he was into ‘kinky stuff’, before telling the owner: ‘I am an undercover officer’.
The court also heard that just three days before abducting, raping and murdering Sarah, Couzens allegedly flashed two female members of staff at a McDonald’s drive-thru restaurant in Swanley, Kent.
They reported it to police and CCTV cameras were able to identify Couzens’ car. Tragically, the incident was not seen as a high priority case, so he was not apprehended and continued to turn up to work.
Couzens snatched Sarah as she walked to her flat in Brixton after visiting a friend.
She left the flat at 9.10pm and was ‘in good spirits’ as she made the three-mile journey home, taking the busy well lit route along the A205 South Circular rather than cutting across Clapham Common.
She phoned her boyfriend, Josh Loewth, and they chatted for 14 minutes, making plans for the rest of the week. ‘That was the last family, friends and colleagues heard from Sarah Everard,’ Mr Little told the court.
Officers trawled through hours of CCTV to find footage of Couzens driving the Vauxhall and approaching Sarah from behind on the A205 at Poynders Road.
In the footage he is seen raising his left arm holding a warrant card before handcuffing Sarah and putting her into the hire car.
A couple driving past the scene witnessed her fake arrest and said she was being compliant. The passenger saw one of Sarah’s arms behind her back and remarked to her husband: ‘I’ve just seen a woman being handcuffed’.
Dashcam footage timed at 9.37pm shows Sarah in the rear of the Vauxhall. It may be the last time she was seen alive.
After the abduction, Couzens drove his victim to a non-residential area of Dover before forcing her into his own vehicle, which was parked nearby.
Couzens then drove to a remote rural area north-west of Dover which he knew well, where he parked up and raped Sarah.
The court heard it was impossible to pinpoint the exact moment the predator strangled Sarah because he refused to tell investigators.
However she had ‘likely already been murdered’ when Couzens stopped to buy drinks at a station at 2:30am, as doing so while she was alive would have been ‘foolhardy’.
Couzens went on the move again, this time heading for Hoads Wood outside Ashford, Kent, where he had bought a plot of woodland in 2019.
It was just after 3.20am and he had decided to dispose of Sarah’s body close to his land.
He left her remains there and spent a few hours driving around Kent before stopping at a Costa Coffee in Dover where he had hot chocolate and a Bakewell tart.
Her returned his hire car then drove his own Seat vehicle to the River Stour in Sandwich, where he threw her phone in a flood relief channel.
He then went home to his wife and children, carrying on as normal and taking a phone call from the dentist in which he was ‘calm and accepting’ when asked to rearrange an appointment for his kids.
The next day, on March 5, he drove back to Hoad’s Wood where he disposed of Sarah’s body, stopping along the way to buy a can full of petrol.
He moved Sarah in green bags that he had purchased specifically for that task to a pond deeper into the woods, about 130 metres from a plot of land he owned.
The next day Couzens, who was in £29,000 of debt and in an on-going pay dispute, emailed his boss admitting to feeling stressed. He informed his sergeant that ‘at this moment I feel unable to carry firearms’.
By this point a nationwide search had been launched to find Sarah, who was not discovered for a whole week.
Couzens carried on as normal, making calls to the vet about his ‘anxious’ dog and even taking his wife and kids on a trip to the woods where he burned her body.
He told a passer-by he was ‘cleaning up a plot that had broken glass on it’ when he was spotted moving her remains around – but that was only the start of his web of lies
On March 8 he did not attend a training course at work he was due to, texting a colleague that he was sick.
‘However the defendant was in fact about to drive to London in the Seat to return items to his police locker that he had used and had with him when he kidnapped Sarah Everard,’ said Mr Little.
Couzens wiped his phone minutes before he was arrested at his home in Deal, Kent on March 9.
He initially said he had never met Sarah, then claimed he had ‘no choice’ but to kidnap her for a human trafficking gang which had threatened his family.
He told detectives he was ‘in financial s***’ and that he had been ‘leant on’ by a gang of Eastern Europeans to pick up girls for them.
He eventually pleaded guilty to kidnap, rape and murder at a hearing in July.
Sarah’s family sat quietly in the dock as her final moments were revealed.
Security camera footage was played to the court showing Sarah walking to her friend’s house and calling into a Sainsbury’s store where she bought a bottle of wine.
Mr Little said she walked all the way there ‘and would have walked all the way back had she not been kidnapped’.
What about the others?
The killing of Sarah Everard sparked a national discussion on the issue of male violence – putting pressure on Downing Street, councils and police forces to take action.
A £45 million fund for safer streets, including better lighting and CCTV, was pledged by the Government in the immediate aftermath of her death.
Ministers also announced controversial plans for plain-clothes police officers to patrol areas with bars and nightclubs for predatory men.
But since Ms Everard was abducted on March 3 as she walked home from the Clapham area, a further 80 women have been killed where a man is the principal suspect.
This is according to Counting Dead Women – a group that tracks femicide in the UK on its website.
Co-founder Karen Ingala-Smith said: ‘There are 37 women who are going to be killed violently before the end of the year. Many of them know now that their life is at risk, many of them are in fear of being killed.’
He said her disappearance ‘led to one of the most widely publicised missing person investigations this country has seen’.
The alarm was raised after Sarah did not text to say she had got home and did not attend a scheduled client meeting on the morning of March 4.
Her boyfriend, Josh Lowth, said he had spoken to her on the phone for 14 minutes shortly before the abduction, and she appeared to be walking briskly and was ‘not intoxicated’.
He became worried when his messages about their plans for the rest of the week went unanswered and, from 11:38pm, all attempts to call her mobile telephone went to ‘call forward’.
Mr Lowth went to her flat but got no answer and started contacting hospitals and the emergency services.
He then reported her missing to police.
Sarah’s death sent shockwaves across the nation and sparked protests at the rate of violence against women.
Vigils were held in several cities amid an outpouring of grief and emotion, with the Duchess of Cambridge among those paying respect.
Sarah’s family said yesterday that ‘no punishment’ will be enough to compensate for the torment they will endure for the rest of their lives.
The University of Durham graduate, originally from York, was described as beautiful inside and out, with a kind nature and a good sense of humour.
Her dad asked the killer to face him in court as he told him: ‘I can never forgive you for what you have done.’
He asked for a photo of ‘my beautiful daughter’ to be shown on the court’s big screen, adding: ‘she also had a beautiful mind.’
He calmly asked the killer to ‘please look at me’ as he told of the grief and sorrow his callous actions had inflicted on so many people who loved Sarah.
Jeremy Everard said: ‘You murdered our daughter and forever broke the hearts of her mother, father, brother, sister, family and her friends.
‘Sarah had so much to look forward to and because of YOU this is now gone forever.
‘She was saving to buy a house and looking forward to marriage and children. We were looking forward to having grandchildren.
‘We loved being a part of Sarah’s world and expected her to have a full and happy life. The closest we can get to her now is to visit her grave every day.’