Murder of Sarah Everard

Murder of Sarah Everard
Sarah Everard.jpg
Sarah Everard
Datec. 4 March 2021
LocationKent, England
ConvictedWayne Couzens
VerdictPleaded guilty on all 3 counts
SentenceLife imprisonment (whole life order)

On the evening of 3 March 2021, Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old marketing executive, was kidnapped in South London, England, as she was walking home to the Brixton Hill area from a friend's house near Clapham Common. Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens falsely arrested her under the pretence of having breached COVID-19 regulations and drove her to near Dover where he raped and strangled her, before burning her body and disposing of her remains in a nearby pond.

On 9 March, Couzens was arrested in Deal, Kent, first on suspicion of Everard's kidnapping and later on suspicion of her murder. Everard's remains were discovered in woodland near Ashford, Kent on 10 March; following their identification, Couzens was charged with her kidnap and murder.

Vigils were held for Everard on the evening of 13 March. The vigil on Clapham Common, near where she had disappeared, led to a controversial police response and four arrests for breaches of COVID-19 regulations. The murder additionally sparked widespread debate about the role of police in British society and the status of women's safety in the UK.

On 8 June 2021, Couzens pleaded guilty to Everard's kidnap and rape, and admitted responsibility for her death, and on 9 July he pleaded guilty to her murder. He was sentenced by Lord Justice Fulford to a whole life order on 30 September 2021.


Sarah Everard was born in Surrey in 1987.[1] She grew up in York, where she attended Fulford School.[2] She studied Human Geography at St Cuthbert's Society, Durham University, from 2005 to 2008.[3][4] At the time of her death, Everard lived in the Brixton Hill area and worked as a marketing executive for a digital media agency.[3][5][6]

Incident and investigation

CCTV image of Everard on 3 March 2021 before her disappearance

On 28 February 2021, Wayne Couzens – a 48-year-old serving Metropolitan Police constable and firearms officer – booked a white Vauxhall car[a] from a vehicle hire company in Dover.[7] At 07:00 GMT on 3 March,[8] he completed a 12-hour shift at the US Embassy in London[9] before travelling to Kent to collect the hire car. He then drove back to London where he was recorded as being in Earl's Court and on Battersea Bridge. After arriving in Clapham, he again drove to Earl's Court before returning to Clapham at 21:23.[10]

At around 21:00, Everard had left a friend's house on Leathwaite Road[8] near Clapham Junction, west of Clapham Common.[4][11][12] She walked along the A205 South Circular Road across the common en route to her Brixton Hill home.[3][11][13] She spoke to her boyfriend on her phone for about fifteen minutes and agreed to meet him the next day.[3] At 21:28, she was seen on doorbell camera footage on Poynders Road[14] and four minutes later on the dashcam of a passing police car.[3][4][15]

At 21:34, Couzens – who had parked the Vauxhall on the pavement outside Poynders Court[8] – stopped Everard and showed her his police warrant card before handcuffing her[16] and falsely arresting her under the pretence of breaching COVID guidelines.[17][18] Couzens and Everard were twice captured by bus CCTV;[13][15] the first instance at 21:35 showed them beside the hired Vauxhall and the second, at 21:38, showed the Vauxhall's number plate.[7] Around this time, Couzens and Everard entered the car and Couzens drove to Kent;[19][16] the route of the car was retrospectively tracked using CCTV and ANPR.[20] By 23:43, Couzens and Everard were in Dover and had transferred to Couzens's personal SEAT car. Between 23:53 and 00:57 on 4 March, Couzens's mobile phone connected to cell sites in the area of Sibertswold, and it is believed that this is when he raped Everard.[8] At 02:34, Couzens purchased drinks from a Dover petrol station; it is believed that he had strangled Everard using his police belt at some point before this.[8][21][22] The post-mortem concluded she had died from compression of the neck.[23][24]

Later that day, Everard's boyfriend contacted the police after she did not meet him.[3] Couzens returned the hire car on the same day,[20] and later drove to Sandwich, Kent, in his personal car, where he disposed of Everard's mobile phone in one of the town's watercourses.[8][9] Shortly after 11:00, Couzens bought approximately 5 litres (1.1 imp gal; 1.3 US gal) of petrol from a service station in Whitfield. He then drove to Hoad's Wood near Ashford, Kent, where he burned Everard's body inside a refrigerator.[8][9] On the afternoon of 5 March, he bought two large builder's bags from B&Q before returning to Hoad's Wood,[8] where he used one of the bags to dispose of Everard's remains in a pond.[25] Couzens later said that he was suffering from stress and no longer wanted to carry a gun, and on 8 March he reported himself ill from work.[20]

At 16:20 on 10 March, police searching Hoad's Wood found human remains in a large builder's bag, approximately 100 metres (110 yd)[20] from a plot of land that Couzens owned.[15][26][27] Police in Dover also searched the site of a former body repair garage, previously owned by Couzens's family,[28] at the top of the White Cliffs.[29][30] On 12 March, Everard's body was identified through dental records.[31][32][33] Two days later, police focused a search operation around The Rope Walk in Sandwich, and cordoned off approximately 1 square mile (2.6 km2) of the town in relation to the investigation.[34][35][36] On 16 March, police continued to comb woodland in Kent and police divers in Sandwich searched underwater for Everard's mobile phone.[37][38]

Legal proceedings

On 9 March,[8] Kent Police arrested Couzens at his home in Deal[39][40] on suspicion of kidnapping.[14] Police arrived at his house at 17:45 and entered it at 19:50 to make the arrest.[41] Around 40 minutes before he was arrested, Couzens tried to wipe the data from his mobile phone.[18] When interviewed, he initially claimed not to recognise Everard after being shown a photograph of her.[42] He then claimed to be having financial problems after paying for sex in Folkestone,[20] and that a gang of Eastern Europeans had threatened him and his family, demanding he deliver "another girl" after underpaying a prostitute a few weeks before.[43]

Couzens joined the Metropolitan Police (Met) in September 2018.[40] In February 2020,[44] he was assigned to the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection (PaDP) branch,[13] the division responsible for uniformed protection of government and diplomatic premises.[39] He had not undergone enhanced vetting as part of his recruitment nor had he gone through the mandatory two-year probation period with the Met before joining the PaDP.[45][46] A woman in her thirties was also arrested at the address on suspicion of assisting an offender[27] but subsequently released without charge.[47]

On 10 March, the day Everard's remains were discovered, Couzens was re-arrested on suspicion of murder.[27] On 11 March, Couzens was hospitalised following a head injury sustained in custody; he was again briefly hospitalised the following day after a similar injury.[4][48] After the incident on 11 March, police said the injury was sustained while he was alone in his cell.[49]

Couzens was charged with Everard's kidnapping and murder on 12 March, following authorisation from the Crown Prosecution Service.[50] He appeared at Westminster Magistrates' Court on 13 March and was remanded in custody before appearing at the Old Bailey via video link from Belmarsh Prison on 16 March.[48][12]

On 8 June, Couzens pleaded guilty to kidnap and rape, and admitted responsibility for Everard's death.[51][52] Pending medical reports into his mental health at the time of Everard's death, Couzens was not asked to enter a plea to the murder charge.[53][54]

At a hearing on 9 July, Couzens pleaded guilty to murder. On video link from Belmarsh Prison, he kept his head down and was shaking slightly. It was reported that he had hired a car and bought a roll of self-adhesive film, "strong enough to hold carpets down", days before the murder.[7] He and the victim were "complete strangers" and were unknown to each other, prior to her abduction. After the plea hearing, it was reported that Kent Police had received a report in 2015 of a man in a car in Dover, naked from the waist down. It was believed there may have been enough information recorded in the Kent police system to have identified the man as Couzens, who was a serving police officer at the time.[55] Speaking outside the Old Bailey, Dame Cressida Dick – the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police – said she felt "sickened, angered and devastated" by Couzens's crimes, adding: "They are dreadful and everyone in policing feels betrayed. Sarah was a fantastic, talented young woman with her whole life ahead of her and that has been snatched away."[56] The sentencing hearing, led by Lord Justice Fulford, began at the Old Bailey on 29 September following medical and psychiatric reports.[56] Couzens's barrister, Jim Sturman QC, asked Fulford to consider imposing a determinate sentence, which would allow Couzens to become eligible for parole in his 80s.[57] On 30 September, Couzens was sentenced to a whole life order,[16] with Fulford justifying the severity of the punishment by saying that Couzens's use of his position as a police officer to detain Everard was the "vital factor which in my view makes the seriousness of this case exceptionally high".[44]


On 11 March, Home Secretary Priti Patel released a statement saying that "every woman should feel safe to walk on our streets without fear of harassment or violence",[58] and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan stated that London streets are not safe for women or girls.[59] Patel announced that new laws are being considered to protect women against sexual harassment in public, including the potential of making public harassment a specifically defined crime.[60]

On 16 July, the Metropolitan Police held an in-camera disciplinary hearing at which Couzens was dismissed from the service with immediate effect.[61] The Met later announced that it would stop deploying plainclothes officers on their own.[62]

Role of police

The case sparked debate surrounding the role of police in UK society and police violence.[63][64][65] The police were criticised both for their crackdown on vigils for Everard during the COVID-19 lockdown and for their failure to have prevented the murder – not only did Kent Police not take any action after an alleged incident of indecent exposure in 2015,[55] but Couzens had faced at least two other accusations of indecent exposure that had not been properly investigated, he had been involved in an incident in 2002 that was missed in his vetting, and had been nicknamed "The Rapist" during his time with the Civil Nuclear Constabulary.[66] Police culture in the UK also came under criticism. An officer who had been a part of the search for Everard was suspended from duties after sharing an inappropriate graphic on social media, five officers were placed under investigation for sharing grossly offensive material with Couzens before he committed the murder, and several officers gave character references supportive of Couzens during the hearings for his sentencing.[67][68][69] Several female officers told the press that they did not feel as if they could report concerning behaviour by male colleagues.[70]

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) launched an investigation into whether two officers had responded appropriately to reports from 28 February that Couzens had indecently exposed himself at a branch of McDonald's in Swanley, Kent; he had been questioned about these allegations days before he was accused of Everard's murder.[71][47][72] The IOPC also reported that it was investigating whether Kent police had properly investigated allegations of indecent exposure against Couzens made in 2015, when he was employed as an armed officer by the Civil Nuclear Constabulary.[73] On 9 July, the IOPC announced that it had served 12 misconduct notices on officers in regards to the investigation.[74]

On 30 September, after Couzens's sentencing, the Met stated that people should consider "shouting out to a passerby, running into a house, knocking on a door, waving a bus down or, if you are in the position to do so, calling call 999" if they felt uncomfortable when being stopped by a single police officer.[75] The Met received criticism for the statement, with commentators arguing that this would not have prevented Everard's murder (as Couzens was a genuine police officer with the power to make arrests), and could also leave people facing charges of resisting arrest.[76][77][78] North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner Philip Allott faced calls to resign and was criticised for victim blaming after suggesting similarly, stating that women needed to learn more about the law and needed to be "streetwise about when they can be arrested and when they can't be arrested."[79][80]

The British government also came under criticism for its response to the murder, notably for proposing extra powers and funding to the police, despite Couzens having been a police officer. The government had announced it would spend an additional £25 million on street lighting and CCTV cameras as well as launch a pilot scheme to send undercover police into bars and clubs,[81] and was advancing the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill before Parliament, which would give police broad authority to place restrictions on protests and public assembly.[82][83] Dick faced calls to resign.[84][85][86]

After Couzens's sentencing, direct action group Sisters Uncut announced that they would be launching "Copwatch" groups across the UK to train people to intervene in stop and searches and other potentially dangerous police arrests.[87] The Guardian stated in an editorial that "there is no sign that the Met understands the profound crisis of faith that it faces," pointing to a tribunal case related to the UK undercover policing relationships scandal that was resolved in the same week as Couzens's sentencing.[88]

On 4 October, Dick announced that the Met will launch a review of professional standards and internal culture, writing, "I hope to announce a high-profile figure will be appointed to lead a review of our professional standards and internal culture. They will look at our training, leadership, processes, systems and standards of behaviour, and examine cases where officers have let the public down. This person will also work alongside me, challenging my senior team and our leadership on standards, corruption, sexual misconduct and how the Met responds when things go wrong."[89] On 3 October, Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated that the government would not undertake an immediate public inquiry into the case;[90] Patel later announced that an inquiry would investigate the "systematic failures" in allowing Couzens to continue working as a police officer following the incidents of reported indecent exposure.[91] The police force announced Baroness Casey of Blackstock will lead an independent enquiry into the Metropolitan Police. Recruitment, training and vetting will be examined. A second enquiry will investigate cases where allegations of sexual misconduct or domestic abuse were made against police officers or members of staff, who still work in the force.[92]

Women's safety

The case sparked widespread debate about the safety of women and gender violence in the UK.[93][94][95][96] After the murder, the British government reopened its public consultation on its violence against women and girls strategy, receiving an additional 160,000 responses in two weeks. However, some feminist campaigners argued that not enough changed in the wake of the murder. Andrea Simon of the End Violence Against Women Coalition stated that "the measures that could make a difference and the resourcing are not where they need to be."[97] Reports of women killed by serving or former police officers in the UK since 2009 indicate that they are usually partners. In this case they were strangers.[98] On 17 September 2021, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services published a report commissioned by the government after the murder, finding "inconsistencies at every level in how the police respond to violence against women and girls (VAWG) and victims" and that there needed to be a "radical refocus and shift in the priority given to VAWG offences”.[99][100]


Flowers were laid at a vigil for Everard in Sheffield.

Country-wide vigils to be held on Saturday, 13 March were organised by a newly formed campaign group,[101] Reclaim These Streets.[102] The day before the vigils were due to take place, a message was sent to all police chiefs that made it clear that, because of the COVID risk, Patel wanted them to stop people gathering at vigils; she also promised she would personally urge people not to gather.[103] Talks between organisers and police broke down;[102][104] The police had advised the organisers that it would be considered an illegal gathering under COVID‑19 pandemic restrictions and the court refused a request to intervene in the police decision.[105] Events planned for Edinburgh and Cardiff were officially cancelled in favour of online events.[106][107] Cambridge also was scheduled to go online.[108]

Vigils still took place in several British cities, including Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds, Nottingham, Liverpool and Sheffield.[109][110] Small gatherings also took place at locations in London. One on Highbury Fields attracted about 50 participants.[111] Another in Russell Square, although also officially cancelled,[112][113] saw a few people lighting candles. Camden councillor Angela Mason and others[114] criticised the police handling of this small vigil, which included asking attendees and a local journalist to leave to comply with COVID-19 mass-gathering regulations.[115]

Clapham Common vigil

A vigil for Everard took place on Clapham Common on 13 March. Throughout the early part of the day, hundreds of people attended to pay their respects.[116] Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, attended, with Kensington Palace releasing a statement saying that the Duchess "remembers what it was like to walk around London at night before she was married".[117] She was later reported to have sent a personal letter to Everard's family to express "her sadness and sympathy".[118]

The direct action group Sisters Uncut encouraged people to attend "with your sadness and your rage".[119] By 18:00, a crowd of several hundred had congregated at the park's bandstand to hear speeches from Sisters Uncut.[120] Four people were arrested for public-order offences and for breaching the Coronavirus Act 2020.[121][122]

The Metropolitan Police's decision to break up the crowd, and the arresting of attendees and the trampling of the flowers they had laid, prompted public anger.[123][124] Sir Keir Starmer, the leader of the Labour Party, called the police response "deeply disturbing";[125] Boris Johnson said he was "deeply concerned" by footage of the events.[126] Mayor Khan called the police actions and arrests "neither appropriate nor proportionate".[127] Sir Ed Davey, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, repeated calls for Dick to resign.[128] Dick declined and dismissed criticism of the police response.[125][128][129] Assistant Commissioner Helen Ball said the action was necessary because "hundreds of people were packed tightly together, posing a very real risk of easily transmitting COVID-19", and the Metropolitan Police Federation said that 26 police officers were assaulted.[122][128]

Khan and Patel directed Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS), which oversees the police, to conduct a review of the policing of the vigil and lessons learned.[130] The review, published on 30 March, found that the police had "reacted appropriately and were not heavy handed" and were "justified" in their stance with respect to the COVID regulations, saying that the risks of transmission were "too great to ignore".[131] The HMICFRS report also said "Condemnation of the Met's actions within mere hours of the vigil – including from people in positions of responsibility – was unwarranted, showed a lack of respect for public servants facing a complex situation, and undermined public confidence in policing based on very limited evidence." They also said that the police response was a "public relations disaster" with a "materially adverse effect on public confidence in policing"; the review added, "We acknowledge that a more conciliatory response might have served the force's interests better."[130][132][133][134] HMICFRS also concluded that the Met had incorrectly interpreted coronavirus-related restrictions due to legal confusion, and that not all demonstrations during a Tier 4 lockdown are unlawful.[130][132] A whistleblower alleged that the reviewers had demonstrated a pro-police and anti-protestor bias while compiling the report, with the reviewing panel composed almost entirely of police officers.[135]

On 14 March, more than 1,000 people marched from New Scotland Yard to Parliament Square.[128][136][137] The police response was described as "hands-off" and "markedly different" to that on 13 March.[136]

See also


  1. ^ The model has been described as either a Vauxhall Astra[7] or a Vauxhall Crossland[8]


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