Police Officer Sentenced to Life in Prison for Murder of Sarah Everard

LONDON — The police officer who pleaded guilty to the abduction, rape and murder of Sarah Everard — a 33-year-old London woman whose death inspired national calls for better protections for women — was sentenced on Thursday to life in prison by Britain’s top criminal court.

The sentence was announced a day after prosecutors detailed how the officer, Wayne Couzens, abused his authority and, under the guise of the coronavirus restrictions imposed during a national lockdown in March, deceived Ms. Everard into thinking that she was under arrest.

Judge Adrian Bruce Fulford, who delivered the sentence, said that Mr. Couzens had “irretrievably damaged the lives of Sarah Everard’s family and friends” and“eroded the confidence that the public are entitled to have to the police force in England and Wales.”

People in Britain who are sentenced to life in prison rarely serve out the entire term behind bars, but there is an exception for the most serious murder cases, when a judge passes a “whole life order,” as was the case for Mr. Couzens. In this situation, the offender must remain in prison for life without ever becoming eligible for parole.

Tom Little, a prosecutor, detailed the case against Mr. Couzens in London’s central criminal court this week. Those present, including Ms. Everard’s family, heard how Mr. Couzens went “hunting for a lone young female to kidnap and rape.”

Mr. Couzens then confronted Ms. Everard as she walked home from a friend’s house and conducted “a false arrest” to get her into his car, the prosecutor said.

Mr. Couzens, who was a diplomatic protection officer with the Metropolitan Police, presented a police identity card to Ms. Everard and handcuffed her before driving her out of the city, raping her and eventually killing her and setting her body on fire, Mr. Little said.

A vigil for Sarah Everard in March in London. The crime galvanized a national movement demanding better protections for women.Credit…Mary Turner for The New York Times

Her remains were discovered seven days later in a wooded area near Ashford in Kent, roughly 60 miles from London. When Mr. Couzens’ defense lawyer spoke on behalf of his client on Thursday, he said his client did not dispute any of the facts outlined by the prosecution but argued against the possibility of a whole life sentence, citing his guilty plea among other factors.

The details of Mr. Couzens calculated attack and his abuse of power as a police officer have shocked rights activists and lawmakers who have pushed for an overhaul of the approach to policing violence against women.

On Wednesday, before the sentencing hearing began, the Metropolitan Police in a statement acknowledged that Mr. Couzens’ “actions raise many concerns.”

After Ms. Everard’s death, the government commissioned a report from an independent watchdog group to review the police response to violence against women and girls in England and Wales. The report, released this month, called for radical changes across the whole system in approaching these cases.

Zoë Billingham, an inspector at Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, the watchdog group, told the BBC Woman’s Hour on Thursday that Mr. Couzens’ actions had “struck a hammer blow to the very heart of police legitimacy.”

“We cannot dismiss Wayne Couzens as a one-off, as a rarity, as an aberration,” she told the BBC. “We must see every single police force in England and Wales now stepping forward to tell its communities precisely what it is doing to ensure women are safe.”

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