April 02, 2022
New disturbing details in the case of the Sarah Everard murder have been released this month after her killer, a serving Met Police officer, Wayne Couzens was handed a whole life sentence last week.
At Couzens’ sentencing, the judge described the case as "devastating, tragic and wholly brutal.”
Sarah Everard, 33, went missing from the Clapham area of South London on March 3, 2021, after visiting a friend in Brixton. At around 9:30pm, CCTV captured Sarah walking through Clapham common and disappearing soon after. She had called her boyfriend on the walk home and agreed to meet him the next day. When she failed to show up, her boyfriend reported her missing to the police and soon the story of Sarah Everard’s disappearance dominated the headlines.
A few days later, doorbell footage of Sarah walking in South London on Poynders Road along the A205, also known as the South Circular Road, was handed in to police. Sarah’s body was found on March 10, in a wooded area of Great Chart, approximately 55 miles from where Everard was last captured on CCTV. The body was found near the Great Chart Golf and Leisure complex, a now disused complex 44-acres in size and around 4 miles from the nearest town, accessible via a stretch of rural road.
49-year-old Wayne Couzens, an active member of the Metropolitan Police Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Command, was arrested in Kent for the kidnapping of Everard. Initially he denied any connection to Sarah before trying to escape justice by concocting a story wherein he and his family had been threatened by Eastern European pimps. He was later charged on the suspicion of Sarah's murder. Media outlets reported that Couzens was a father of two and a husband.
Media outlets have reported that two incidents of indecent exposure involving cars registered to Wayne Couzens had been missing during Met vetting procedures. One of the incidents involved a report from a civilian who made a complaint in the summer of 2015 after seeing a man, believed to be Couzens, driving unclothed from the waist down. Although the incident was reported, no action was taken. The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) is currently investigating the handling of the incident. Less than a month before Sarah Everard’s murder, Wayne Couzens pulled up to a McDonalds drive-thru on the A20 near Swanley, Kent, naked from the waist down, flashing female employees. Although he flashed multiple workers, only one reported it, later saying:
"He casually pulled up to the serving hatch having ordered his food and I could clearly see that he was naked from below the waist. It was not the first time that he had done this when he came to McDonald’s, but I was the only female member of staff to report it. I’m glad I took a stand and alerted the authorities because it was the right thing to do. ‘But I never imagined that he would go on to murder a woman, it’s tragic. The whole thing has left me quite disturbed."
Details of Wayne Couzen’s character and his premeditated plans to kidnap a lone female civilian on the night of March 3 shocked the British public to its core. Rumors of his nickname, "the rapist", also found their way into reports. It was revealed that Couzens garnered the nickname at his previous position working for the Civil Nuclear Constabulary due to his behavior around female colleagues, whom he made uncomfortable.
According to an article by the BBC, HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary Sir Tom Winsor admitted that he was aware of Couzens’ nickname and that the killer had a reputation regarding his penchant for extreme pornography and drug abuse. A former colleague with whom Couzens worked alongside at a garage in 2002 backed up the statement, confirming that he was aware of the killer’s attraction to pornography centered around sexual violence towards women.
On February 28, 2021, Wayne Couzens rented a white Vauxhall Astra from a car rental service in Dover, Kent. That same day he made an online purchase for a carpet protector product on Amazon.
Couzens collected the car on March 3, 2021, at around 4:45pm. He is seen with Sarah Everard on Poynders Road at around 9:35pm, standing outside the rental vehicle. The pair are captured on two separate bus cameras.
It was later revealed that Wayne Couzens had used his status as a police officer to arrest Miss Everard, claiming that she had violated Covid restriction rules. He flashed his police I.D. and warrant card before handcuffing the victim and coaxing her into the rental vehicle. Although Sarah was a random victim, the crime was premeditated and thoroughly planned out by the perpetrator.
Once Sarah Everard was handcuffed and in the vehicle, Couzens drove the rental car almost 80 miles to Dover in Kent, a journey that would have taken around 1 hour and 45 minutes. The destination was reached at around 11:38pm and Sarah was dragged from the rental car and forced into Wayne Couzen’s personal vehicle. From there, he drove his victim to a rural and secluded woodland area near Hoads Wood where he raped Sarah before murdering her by strangling her with his police-issue belt.
A couple of hours later, at 2:31am on March 4, Couzens was captured on CCTV buying drinks and snacks from a service station. Around an hour later he was captured again on CCTV near the crime scene. He eventually returned the rental car at around 8:30am.
On March 5 Wayne Couzens called into work sick, citing stress as the cause. He was later caught on CCTV purchasing a can of petrol from a service station as well as rubble bags from a hardware store in Dover, Kent. The killer used the petrol to burn both the victim’s body and possessions in a refrigerator in an area of woodland he owned in Hoads Wood, near Ashford, and transferred the remains from the crime scene to a pond using the rubble bags. The following day he ordered a tarp and bungee net which he received on March 7. That same day he took his wife and children on a day out to the same wooded area where he poured petrol over Sarah Everard’s body and burned her remains.
Although he was supposed to return to work on March 8, Wayne Couzens called in sick again. He also reported that he no longer wished to carry his firearm and wiped his phone on March 11 before being arrested later that evening around 7:50pm at the home he shared with his family in Kent. Police connected Couzens to the white visual Astra rental car, which he had paid for using his personal banking card.
It was later discovered that Wayne Couzens was a member of a WhatsApp group, consisting of five currently serving officers and one former officer, all of whom are currently under investigation by the IOPC for discriminatory messages they exchanged in the chat in 2019. The officers and former officer are under investigation for messages determined to be "grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character".
At Couzens sentencing the judge said: "Notwithstanding your guilty pleas, therefore, I have seen no evidence of genuine contrition on your part, as opposed to evident self-pity and attempts by you to avoid or minimize the proper consequences of what you have done. The misuse of a police officer's role such as occurred in this case in order to kidnap, rape and murder a lone victim is of equal seriousness as a murder for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, or ideological cause. All of these situations attack different aspects of the fundamental underpinnings of our democratic way of life."
Sarah Everard’s case has left the public’s trust in the police shattered and opened up a conversation about the safety of women in the U.K. When asked what advice women should follow if they are threatened with arrest, Jess Phillips, Shadow Minister of Domestic Violence and Safeguarding, told the BBC: "It is not women who need advice," adding that most people would have gotten into Couzens vehicle if stopped and shown credentials. The police force has suggested those stopped by an officer in plain clothes and an unmarked car question the officer, call 999 to check the identity of the officer, request a marked police vehicle or the assistance of another officer or to draw attention if you feel unsafe. According to a report by the BBC it is very unusual for an officer in plain clothes to be working without a colleague. If for some reason a plain-clothed officer is working alone, it is protocol that they call and request additional officers to the scene.
Human rights barrister Adam Wagner suggests calling the police station to verify warrant cards and identity as well as calling a lawyer or family member, if possible, at the time of arrest to let them know what is happening and to relay information. Genuine warrant cards will display both a hologram and commissioner’s signature. Any doubts over the legitimacy of a warrant card should be reported to 999.
In the UK, police officers and community support officers have the right to question you about your identity and where you are going under the stop and question act, however, you have the right to refuse information and walk away without being arrested unless you have been involved in anti-social behavior. Officers can stop individuals they believe to be carrying weapons, drugs, or stolen property. An arresting officer should reveal identifying information such as their name and to which station they belong. They must show a genuine warrant card as well as the reason they are arresting you and the crime they suspect you of committing. If you feel the environment you are being arrested in is unsuitable, for example it may be dark and secluded, you can offer your details and request that you instead show up to the police station the following morning.
The advice has been perceived as controversial as women should not have to fear false arrests, kidnap, rape, and murder at the hands of police officers who have been put there to protect them from such crimes. Director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, Andrea Simon, called advice from the police force for women to challenge the identity of arresting officers, “absurd”.
Campaigners have highlighted that the focus be on tackling violence against women rather than giving women tips on how to protect themselves against criminal officers. Jess Phillips, Labour's shadow minister for domestic violence, added to the conversation, saying: “I could scream about the amount of things women are told to do," adding that Ms. Everard was "keeping herself completely safe, doing exactly what any woman would do”.
Others have pointed out that as a serving officer, Wayne Couzens had all the credentials he needed to trick Sarah Everard into his vehicle. Off duty officers in plain clothes are expected to intervene in crimes and become on duty the moment they do. Wayne Couzens used his role as a serving officer to commit unspeakable crimes against an unsuspecting female civilian and most people in Sarah Everard’s shoes would have perceived the arrest as an official one as Couzens showed both his I.D and warrant card.
Phillips also added that women and girls need to be taken more seriously when it comes to crimes of violence against them- “This is a conversation where women have been saying for some time, even before the death of Sarah Everard, that they don't feel that they are trusted by the police when they speak up or that violence and crime against them is prioritized.”
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