loader image

‘Warped, selfish and brutal’: Sarah Everard’s killer will spend rest of life in prison

An officer who strangled Sarah Everard with his police belt after kidnapping her under the guise of a fake arrest will die in jail.

Wayne Couzens, 48, was handed a whole-life order for the “grotesque” killing of the 33-year-old marketing executive which shocked and outraged the nation.

Sentencing at the Old Bailey on Thursday, Lord Justice Fulford said the seriousness of the case was so “exceptionally high” it warranted a whole-life order.

As it happened: Reaction as Wayne Couzens’ sentenced to whole-life term

PICTURES CAN ONLY BE USED ONCE FAMILY HAVE ISSUED STATEMENT Undated family handout photo of Sarah Everard issued by the Crown Prosecution Service. Former Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens, 48, will appear at the Old Bailey in London, on the first day of a two-day sentence hearing after pleading guilty to the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard. Issue date: Wednesday September 29, 2021.
Image: Sarah Everard was kidnapped as she walked home from a friend’s house in Clapham

“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 said.

He described the murder as “devastating” and “tragic” and said Couzens went out “hunting a lone female to kidnap and rape”.

He said Ms Everard was “a wholly blameless victim of a grotesque series of circumstances that culminated in her death”.

What does a whole-life order mean for Wayne Couzens?

Wayne Couzens has been handed a whole-life order, the most severe punishment available in the UK’s justice system.

It means he will never be considered for release unless there are exceptional compassionate grounds to warrant it.

He joins several of the country’s most notorious offenders, who are expected to die behind bars.

There are currently 60 criminals serving whole-life orders, according to government figures to the end of June.

Levi Bellfield, who killed Milly Dowler, is thought to be the only criminal in UK legal history serving two whole-life murders. He was handed one for murdering Milly and the other for the killings of Marsha McDonnell and Amelie Delagrange and the attempted murder of Kate Sheedy.

Other criminals serving whole-life orders include: serial killer Rose West; Michael Adebolajo, one of the men who killed Fusilier Lee Rigby; Mark Bridger, who murdered five-year-old April Jones; Thomas Mair, the neo-Nazi who killed MP Jo Cox; Grindr serial killer Stephen Port; and most recently Khairi Shaadallah, who murdered three men in a park in Reading.

Home secretaries could previously issue whole-life tariffs but they are now determined by judges.

Sarah’s family released a statement saying they were “very pleased” Couzens received a full-life sentence.

“Nothing can make things better, nothing can bring Sarah back, but knowing he will be imprisoned forever brings some relief,” the statement said.

“Sarah lost her life needlessly and cruelly and all the years of life she had yet to enjoy were stolen from her.

“Wayne Couzens held a position of trust as a police officer and we are outraged and sickened that he abused this trust in order to lure Sarah to her death. The world is a safer place with him imprisoned.”

The last moments of Sarah Everard’s life were “as bleak and agonising as it is possible to imagine”, he added.

Couzens shook in the dock as he was sent down to begin his sentence.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

What happened the night Wayne Couzens killed Sarah Everard?

The court had heard how Couzens used his Metropolitan Police-issue warrant card and handcuffs to snatch Ms Everard as she walked home from a friend’s house in Clapham, south London, on the evening of 3 March.

The firearms officer, who had clocked off from a 12-hour shift at the American embassy that morning, drove to a secluded rural area near Dover in Kent, where he parked up and raped Ms Everard.

Ms Everard, who lived in Brixton, south London, had been strangled with Couzens’ police issue belt by 2.30am the following morning.

Married Couzens then burned her body in a refrigerator in an area of woodland he owned in Hoads Wood, near Ashford, before dumping the remains in a nearby pond.

He was arrested at his home in Deal, Kent, after police connected him to a hire car he used to abduct Ms Everard, whose remains were found by police dogs on 10 March.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Bodycam footage shows Wayne Couzens giving an excuse to why he kidnapped Sarah Everard.

In an emergency interview at his home, Couzens concocted a fake story that he had been “leant” on by a gang which forced him to hand over “a girl”.

He went on to plead guilty to Ms Everard’s kidnap, rape and murder and was sacked from the force in July.

Analysis by Andy Hughes, specialist producer

Wayne Couzens is a cold-blooded killer who will rightly spend the rest of his life behind bars.

Sarah Everard – a talented and much-loved young woman – was a wholly blameless victim whose routine journey home ended in unimaginable brutality.

Couzens is believed to be the first police officer to be given a whole life order, and one of only 60 ever given, which includes the likes of Milly Dowler’s murderer Levi Bellfield and serial killer Rose West.

Any other outcome simply wouldn’t have been enough to reflect the depravity of his crimes.

And for the family of Sarah Everard, no punishment will ever compare to the torture he inflicted on them.

The victim statements they read out were by far the most extraordinary I’ve ever heard in any court case. Not only in the gravity of the words, but in how those words were delivered.

Victim statements are usually read out by the prosecution. But the Everards had the courage to read them out themselves.

Sarah’s mother Susan told the judge: “I am tormented at the thought of what she endured. I play it out in my mind.”

The most powerful moment came when Sarah’s dad Jeremy stood up. The judge watched as Mr Everard turned to face Couzens and told him to look him in the eye as he addressed him directly.

Couzens, who had spent the whole sentencing hearing slumped in the dock wearing an oversized mask to cover his face, shifted his chair around to face Mr Everard, and lifted his head slightly, but didn’t go far enough to make eye contact.

Sarah’s sister’s statement was so graphic in the detail of her torment that most of it is unreportable.

If the judge was weighing up which way to go – a fixed term sentence or whole life order – then the power of the statements from the Everards surely sealed his decision.

But this isn’t the end to this story. There are two investigations into Couzens’ previous behaviour. In 2015 while as a special constable in Kent Police, he was accused of indecent exposure.

And three days before he kidnapped Sarah Everard, he was accused of flashing at a McDonald’s restaurant in Kent. If these had been investigated properly, would Sarah still be alive today? Quite possibly.

Questions, of course, must be asked of the Met’s vetting procedures. How on earth can a man known to his friends as “the rapist” possibly be allowed to put on a uniform?

But that question will be answered another day. Today, Wayne Couzens was told he would die in jail.

Met Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick has faced calls to resign.

Speaking outside the court, she said Couzens’ actions were a “gross betrayal of everything policing stands for”.

She said she was aware a “precious bond of trust has been damaged” for some people and said Couzens had “brought shame on the Met”.

“I am so sorry,” she added.

PICTURES CAN ONLY BE USED ONCE FAMILY HAVE ISSUED STATEMENT Undated family handout photo of Sarah Everard issued by the Crown Prosecution Service
Image: Sarah Everard’s family said they could never forgive Couzens

Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “In terms of the monster that has been convicted today, it is right that he has been given a whole life tariff and with that he can never walk the streets of our country again.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Home secretary vows to hold Met Police to account

“Alongside that of course, it is right that we constantly hold the police to account for what has happened.”

Subscribe to the Daily podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Spreaker

Asked if Dame Cressida should resign, Ms Patel said: “I think first of all there are important questions and questions that I’ve been asking and challenges, we have to be honest about this, in particular to this case, but also the conduct of that serving officer and conduct of policing more broadly.

“So, I will continue to work with the Metropolitan Police and the Commissioner to hold them to account as everybody would expect me to do, and I will continue to do that.”

CONTACT THE STUDIO