A Metropolitan Police officer has pleaded guilty to murdering Sarah Everard in a case that has caused widespread shock and outrage.
Wayne Couzens, 48, kidnapped Everard in a hire car as she walked home alone from a friend’s house in Clapham, south London, on the evening of March 3.
The sexual predator, who had clocked off from a 12-hour shift that morning, went on to rape and strangle the 33-year-old marketing executive.
Police launched an urgent inquiry after Everard was reported missing by her boyfriend Josh Lowth.
Couzens, a firearms-trained parliamentary and diplomatic protection officer, wiped his phone just minutes before he was arrested at his home in Deal, Kent, on March 9.
The following day—a week after she disappeared—Everard’s body was found in a woodland stream in Ashford, Kent, just metres from land owned by Couzens.
The killing has sparked protests at the rate of violence against women.
Police were criticised over the manhandling of women at a vigil for Everard attended by the Duchess of Cambridge.
Last month, Couzens pleaded guilty to Everard’s kidnap and rape.
On Friday, five members of her family were in court as he pleaded guilty to her murder when he appeared at the Old Bailey by video link from Belmarsh high security jail.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick was also present in the courtroom.
Prosecutor Tom Little QC told the court: “Before the defendant kidnapped Sarah Everard on the South Circular on March 3 this year, he had not previously met her, he did not know her and had no direct or indirect contact with her.
“They were total strangers to each other.”
Jim Sturman QC, defending, said: “His pleas today represents a truly guilty plea and remorse for what he did and, as he put it to us this morning, he will bear the burden for the rest of his life—his words: ‘as I deserve.’”
The judge, Lord Justice Fulford, set a two-day sentencing hearing from September 29.
It can now be reported that Couzens, who joined the Met in 2018, had booked the hire of a Vauxhall Astra and bought a roll of self-adhesive film days before the murder.
At around 9 p.m. on March 3, Everard set off on foot for the two-and-a-half-mile journey home, chatting with her boyfriend by mobile phone on the way.
A camera attached to a passing marked police car captured her walking alone at 9:32 p.m.
Just three minutes later, a bus camera appeared to capture the moment she was intercepted by Couzens in Balham, south London.
Two figures could be seen standing by the hire car, which was parked on the pavement with its hazard lights flashing.
After snatching Everard, Couzens drove out of London, arriving in the area of Tilmanstone, near Deal, at 1 a.m.
Investigators tracked the route of the car using CCTV and ANPR cameras and identified the driver as a serving officer through the car hire firm.
Couzens had used his personal details and bank card to make the booking, picking up the Vauxhall Astra on the afternoon of the abduction and returning it the next morning.
The court heard investigators are still analysing scientific evidence relating to Couzens’ own car, into which he transferred Everard from the hire car he used to kidnap her.
Little said: “That may seek to establish where it was that Sarah Everard was raped and where she was murdered.”
In the days that followed, Couzens reported that he was suffering from stress and did not want to carry a firearm anymore, according to a case summary.
On March 8, the day he was due on duty, he reported in sick.
The next day, police arrested Couzens at 7:50 p.m.—39 minutes after he wiped the data from his mobile phone.
In a police interview, Couzens concocted an elaborate story and claimed to be having financial problems.
He said he had got into trouble with a gang of Eastern Europeans who threatened him and his family.
A gang demanded he deliver “another girl” after underpaying a prostitute a few weeks before, he said.
He kidnapped Everard, drove out of London, and handed her over to three Eastern European men in a van in a layby in Kent, still alive and uninjured, Couzens claimed.
Meanwhile, police found out that Couzens and his wife had bought a small patch of woodland in 2019 in Ashford.
Phone data led officers to the site and at 4:45 p.m. a body was found some 100 metres outside the property boundary.
The remains dumped in a stream inside a large green builders’ bag were identified as Everard’s by dental records.
Further inquiries revealed that on the same day that Couzens booked the hire car, he bought a roll of self-adhesive film on Amazon.
Two days after Everard was last seen, Couzens was caught on CCTV buying two green rubble bags at B&Q in Dover.
He went on to order a tarpaulin and a bungee cargo net for delivery on March 7.
Even though Couzens’ phone had been wiped, cell site data linked him to the abduction and the area where Everard was eventually found.
Not only was his device located there in the early hours of March 4 but also in the days leading up to his arrest.
The defendant went on to make no comment in formal interview and was charged on March 12.
During an earlier hearing, prosecutor Tom Little QC had outlined “significant” risks of Couzens reoffending if bailed.
He cited an alleged incident of indecent exposure on Feb. 28—days before the murder.
As part of a string of referrals in the case, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) said it was investigating whether Met Police officers responded appropriately to a report of indecent exposure at a fast food restaurant in south London.
By Emily Pennink