Published: 2021-09-30 20:32
Last Updated: 2021-10-22 05:16
Thursday, a British police officer was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in jail for the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard, whose disappearance sparked protests and calls for action against male violence.
Wayne Couzens, 48, snatched the 33-year-old marketing executive in south London in March, after falsely arresting her on the pretence she had broken coronavirus restrictions.
The judge said Couzens' use of his police status to carry out the "grotesque" offences warranted the highest penalty -- a rare whole-life jail term for which there is no possibility of parole.
The sentence means Couzens joins 60 other of Britain's most dangerous criminals who will die behind bars.
Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, said he was "sickened" at Couzens' crimes, and he had acted in "total betrayal" of his role to protect the public.
Everard's disappearance sparked one of Britain's most high-profile missing persons investigations and protests calling for better safety for women in public spaces.
Couzens, who served with the elite diplomatic protection unit of London's Metropolitan Police, admitted kidnapping, rape and murder at a hearing in July and was sacked.
Sentencing him at the Old Bailey in central London, judge Adrian Fulford said his actions were "devastating, tragic and wholly brutal" and his victim was "wholly blameless."
"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 ideological cause," he added.
Met Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, who faces calls to resign, apologised and said Couzens had "brought shame" on the force. "His actions were a gross betrayal of everything policing stands for," she added.
Everard's family said they were relieved at the severity of the sentence. "The world is a safer place with him imprisoned," they said in a statement.
- 'Warning signs' -
The high-profile case refocused attention on how British police handle complaints of violence against women and girls.
Johnson and Home Secretary, Priti Patel, whose department oversees policing, vowed tougher action to improve safety.
But questions have been raised about failures to address previous complaints of indecent exposure against Couzens, who was said to have been a user of sex workers and violent pornography, and was nicknamed "the rapist" by colleagues.
The leader of Britain's main opposition Labour party, Keir Starmer, a former chief prosecutor for England and Wales, called for a review of how Couzens was able to "slip through the net," and said legislation needed to be tightened.
The Met, Britain's biggest police force, was already under fire for its initial handling of the double murder of two black sisters in a London park last year.
In that case, detectives were accused of not taking their disappearance seriously, and two officers were suspended for sharing crime scene photos on WhatsApp.
Demonstrators outside the Old Bailey said the Met, which controversially broke up vigils for Everard for breaching social distancing rules, had "blood on their hands."
Dick said she understood that for some, "a precious bond of trust has been damaged," but the force's commitment to protecting the public was "undiminished," promising to "learn any lessons."
- Snatched -
Couzens, who had just finished a 12-hour shift guarding the US embassy, snatched Everard as she walked to her home in Brixton, south London, from a friend's house in nearby Clapham on the evening of March 3.
He showed her his warrant card, then used his police handcuffs to restrain her, before driving her in a hire car to Kent in southeast England, some 128 kilometers away.
The married father-of-two initially told officers he had been forced to seize the university graduate and hand her over to a Romanian gang to whom he owed money.
But he later told a psychiatrist he had used his police belt to strangle Everard, then set her body on fire. Her remains were found in woods a week after she disappeared.
Everard's former boyfriend said she was "savvy and streetwise" and would not have gotten into a car with a stranger except "by force or manipulation."