LONDON – Sarah Everard was walking home after visiting a friend in her south London neighborhood when a police officer arrested her. He motioned for her to go to her car, pulled out her police ID, and quickly handcuffed her.
It was in the midst of a nationwide coronavirus lockdown in March, and police were accused of applying movement restrictions. The young woman, according to a video of the meeting, did not dispute. She got in the car and the policeman left.
Seven days later, his charred remains were found stuffed in green trash bags in the woods some 60 miles away.
The crime horrified Britain. For any woman who has looked over her shoulder on her way home alone, this struck a chord. And before it was even revealed that the killer was a police officer, it raised deep questions about how authorities deal with incidents of violence against women and galvanized a national movement demanding better protections.
But the harrowing details of the kidnapping, rape and murder of Ms Everard, 33, were not publicly disclosed for the first time until Wednesday during the sentencing hearing for Officer Wayne Couzens. Mr Couzens, who worked for the Metropolitan Police, pleaded guilty to his murder earlier this year.
The prosecution on Wednesday described the actions of Mr. Couzens as an attack of “deception, kidnapping, rape, strangulation, fire”.
Tom Little, a prosecutor, told Central Criminal Court in London how Mr Couzens went looking for a young woman on her own and used her credentials, equipment and police training to commit the crime.
Responsible for protecting the public, Mr. Couzens instead used his position of authority to lure Ms. Everard to her death.
The prosecution described how Mr Couzens confronted Ms Everard on March 3 in south London as she returned home from a friend’s house and made a ‘false arrest’ for violating lockdown guidelines , to get Mrs. Everard into her car.
He then raped and strangled her, before setting her body on fire. Ms Everard’s remains were found near Ashford in Kent. Just days after this discovery, Mr. Couzens took his family on an outing in the same Kent woods, “allowing his children to play in relatively close proximity to where Sarah Everard’s body had been dumped”, Mr. Little said.
Mr Couzens had worked on Covid patrols a few months earlier, the prosecutor told the court, giving him an understanding of the protocols regarding potential lockdown violations.
A witness in a passing vehicle saw what was happening and noted that it looked abnormal, but thought it was simply a police officer detaining a woman “who had done something wrong,” said the prosecutor in court.
Frightening footage from surveillance cameras showed the interaction between Ms Everard, where she complied with Mr Couzens’ request to get into the car as she most likely believed she was being pulled over .
Rights groups have reacted indignantly to the new information.
The Women’s Equality Party said the kidnapping in this manner was “a disgusting abuse of power” and called for an independent investigation into sexism within the Metropolitan Police and for violence against women and girls to be resolved. treated as a national threat.
“Women cannot be expected to trust the police when we have to live with the fear of it,” the party said in a statement. “Misogyny is ingrained in our institutions.
Stella Creasy, MP from the opposition Labor Party, said in a message on Twitter that the London Metropolitan Police “must now respond to the loss of confidence in the police that many women will feel as a result with a clear and urgent plan of action”.
Many also criticized the failure of the police to investigate allegations of other sexual offenses committed by Mr Couzens before Ms Everard’s murder, including reports that he had exposed himself in public in the days leading up to the attack.
The London Metropolitan Police on Wednesday released a statement ahead of the sentencing hearing acknowledging that “Mr Couzens’ actions raise a number of concerns.
“We are sickened, angry and devastated by the crimes of this man who betray all we stand for,” police said in a statement.
Ms Everard was reported missing by her boyfriend the day after her kidnapping, although she did not return home. Soon a poster of missing persons spread on social media.
The urgency of his disappearance quickly turned to grief and then anger after the discovery of his body.
The crime sparked a nationwide movement as women shared their own stories of street harassment and tales of sexual violence, calling for action to address the issue of women’s safety.
This sparked street protests amid the lockdown, with protesters calling for systemic changes in the way police deal with crimes against women.
The fact that Mr Couzens was a police officer only heightened public anger over Ms Everard’s death. He could face life in prison for his crimes.
Britain’s record of violence against women has come to light again this month after the murder of Sabina Nessa, a 28-year-old schoolteacher who was assaulted during what should have been a five-minute walk to meet a friend. Many have drawn parallels between her death and Ms. Everard’s six months earlier.
In July, following the murder of Ms Everard and other cases of deadly violence against women, the UK government announced a new strategy to tackle this type of violence. The measures included tougher penalties proposed for offenders and increased policing of public spaces.
After Ms Everard’s death and the ensuing protests against the police, Home Secretary Priti Patel commissioned a report from an independent watchdog to examine the police response to violence against women and girls.
The report, released this month, called for a “radical change in approach across the system involving the police, the criminal justice system, local authorities, health and education.”