Former firearms officer Wayne Couzens, 48, was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole Thursday for the kidnap, rape, and murder of British woman Sarah Everard after he used his police powers to detain her on her way home.
Everard, 33, was walking home from a friend’s house on March 3 when Couzens stopped her and used his police identification to detain and handcuff her under the pretense of enforcing COVID-19 restrictions. Prosecutors said Couzens then placed her in a car and drove to Kent, England, where he raped and strangled her with his police belt.
Couzens’ sentence is a rarity among British murder cases, which usually carry a minimum term set by the judge.
“In my judgment, 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 carried out for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause,” said Lord Justice Adrian Fulford in his sentencing statement at London’s Old Bailey.
The gravity of Couzens' crimes and abuse of power against “a wholly blameless victim” had damaged public faith in the police and therefore warranted a whole life sentence, said Fulford, who laid out how the officer had used his position as a cover for his crimes.
Over the duration of the two-day sentence hearing, the court heard how Couzens, a serving member of the Metropolitan police force at the time, went to London, where he stalked potential victims for a month before targeting Everard.
“I have not the slightest doubt that the defendant used his position as a police officer to coerce her on a wholly false pretext into the car he had hired for this purpose,” Fulford said.
Her death prompted an outpouring of testimonies from women online about their experience of feeling unsafe and lack of faith in the police. Activists took to the streets of London to hold a vigil for Everard, which resulted in arrests after clashes with police.
Couzens was officially fired from the Metropolitan Police in July, a week after he pled guilty to Everard’s murder.
The case has prompted criticism of the Metropolitan Police, which issued a statement denouncing Couzens ahead of his sentencing.
“We are sickened, angered and devastated by this man’s crimes which betray everything we stand for. Our thoughts are with Sarah’s family and her many friends. It is not possible for us to imagine what they are going through,” officials said in a statement.
Following Couzens’ sentencing, senior British politicians have called for police commissioner Dame Cressida Dick to resign.
“Women need to be able to trust the police, not fear them,” wrote Labour MP Harriet Harman in an open letter.
Everard’s family issued a statement saying they are relieved by the sentencing.
"Nothing can make things better, nothing can bring Sarah back, but knowing he will be imprisoned forever brings some relief,” the statement said.
Read Lord Justice Fulford's sentencing statement in full.