Sarah Everard: Wayne Couzens to be sentenced for kidnap, rape and murder
Met officer used police ID card and handcuffs to lure Everard into car before killing her and burning body
The former Metropolitan police officer Wayne Couzens is to be sentenced for the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard, amid calls for a formal law to set out the rights of victims.
Couzens, 48, used his police warrant card and handcuffs to lure Everard off the street before strangling her with his police belt and burning her body, depriving her family of the chance to say a final goodbye, a court heard.
Video footage released on Wednesday showed Couzens, then a serving Metropolitan police officer, staging a false arrest of Everard as she returned from a friend’s house in south London in March during a period of coronavirus lockdown measures.
Lord Justice Fulford will decide on the minimum length of Couzens’ life sentence on Thursday at the Old Bailey in central London.
Speaking on Thursday morning, the Labour leader reiterated his calls for a victims’ law, granting rights such as allowing them to challenge decisions over criminal investigations.
Keir Starmer also called for a review of how Couzens was allowed to remain in the police force despite concerns about his conduct.
“We’ve got to get to the bottom of how that happened,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “It looks as though there were some telltale signs; there was evidence, there were issues that should have been looked into properly, and they were not. And it is not vital that that review is done.
“But then there needs to be wider reform. I’ve been arguing for a victims’ law for years, since I was director of public prosecutions. One of the things I said in my speech yesterday – we have codes, we have support, but we have nothing in law that is there to support victims. I feel very, very strongly about it. And we need legislation on violence against women and girls.”
The full details of Couzens’ crimes were detailed for the first time at a hearing on Wednesday to decide whether he should be sentenced to die in jail. The prosecution said the crimes were so serious, involving the abuse of his position and trust as a police officer, they might merit him being sentenced to a whole-life tariff.
The offence of murder, which Couzens has admitted, carries a mandatory life sentence.
The defence will on Thursday morning argue against Couzens receiving a whole-life tariff for the ordeal he inflicted on Everard, a sentence reserved for the very worst offenders.
He handcuffed her in the backseat of his car and “that was the start of her lengthy ordeal, including an 80-mile journey [to Kent] while detained, which was to lead first to her rape and then her murder”, Tom Little QC told the Old Bailey.
“At some point fairly soon after driving from the pavement on to the South Circular and having not gone to a police station, Sarah Everard must have realised her fate.”
Everard’s mother, Susan, told the court she remained “tormented” at the thought of what her 33-year-old daughter endured.
Couzens kept his head bowed in court. Everard’s father, Jeremy, and other daughter, Katie, each asked that Couzens face them before they began addressing him directly. He lifted his head slightly but did not look at them.
Everard’s murder rocked Britain and led to an outcry over women’s safety on the streets. Police fear the full details of the crime will trigger growing revulsion and anger.
Couzens, 48, hired a car and bought adhesive tape before “hunting for a lone young female to kidnap and rape” as part of a premeditated mission on the night Everard was abducted, the prosecution told the court on the first day of a two-day sentencing hearing.
Little said Everard, a marketing executive, was seized on 3 March before being driven to Kent, where Couzens killed her and left her body in the countryside.
Couzens may have used the pretext that Everard had broken Covid lockdown regulations to stop her, the court heard. He had undertaken police Covid patrols and knew what language to use to those who may have breached the rules.
Couzens was off duty at the time but wore his police belt. He encountered Everard at about 9.30pm as she made what should have been a 50-minute walk home.
A woman who witnessed the start of Couzens’ kidnapping of Everard saw him handcuff her on the pavement. Little said the passerby thought she was witnessing an undercover police officer arresting a woman, whom she assumed “must have done something wrong”.
The witness then saw Couzens walking Everard, her hands cuffed behind her back, towards his car. Little said Everard may have been more vulnerable to an accusation of breaching Covid rules because she had been to a friend’s place for dinner during the lockdown.
In Kent the Met officer switched cars and raped his victim, the court heard. He then strangled Everard. “The defendant informed the psychiatrist that he strangled Sarah Everard using his belt. Given all the circumstances this would be consistent with his police belt,” Little told the court.
Couzens was caught on CCTV crisscrossing Kent after the murder, as he started hiding his crimes. He filled a can with petrol and set about burning Everard’s body in a field and “moved her body in green bags purchased specifically for that task”, Little said.
The court heard Couzens had tried to dispose of Everard’s mobile phone and that semen was found on her body. A fragment of her sim card was found in a car Couzens used.
Police released video of Couzens claiming to officers, when arrested at home, that he had kidnapped Everard because he was being threatened by a gang and was forced to hand her over to them. This was a lie, the prosecution said.
Everard’s body was recovered seven days after the abduction, from woodland near Ashford in Kent, about 20 miles west of Couzens’ home in Deal. It was hidden and wrapped in a builder’s bag Couzens had bought days earlier.
Everard was identified from her dental records. A postmortem showed she died from compression of the neck.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the war in Ukraine has added to the disruptions caused by climate change, the coronavirus pandemic and inequality to produce an “unprecedented global hunger crisis” already affecting hundreds of millions of people.
“There is a real risk that multiple famines will be declared in 2022,” he said in a video message to officials from dozens of rich and developing countries gathered in Berlin. “And 2023 could be even worse.”
Guterres noted that harvests across Asia, Africa and the Americas will take a hit as farmers around the world struggle to cope with rising fertilizer and energy prices.
“This year’s food access issues could become next year’s global food shortage,” he said. “No country will be immune to the social and economic repercussions of such a catastrophe.”
Guterres said U.N. negotiators were working on a deal that would enable Ukraine to export food, including via the Black Sea, and let Russia bring food and fertilizer to world markets without restrictions.
He also called for debt relief for poor countries to help keep their economies afloat and for the private sector to help stabilize global food markets.
The Berlin meeting’s host, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, said Moscow’s claim that Western sanctions imposed over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine were to blame for food shortages was “completely untenable.”
Russia exported as much wheat in May and June this year as in the same months of 2021, Baerbock said.
She echoed Guterres’ comments that several factors underlie the growing hunger crisis around the world.
“But it was Russia’s war of attack against Ukraine that turned a wave into a tsunami,” Baerbock said.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken insisted that Russia has no excuse for holding back vital goods from world markets.
“The sanctions that we’ve imposed on Russia collectively and with many other countries exempt food, exempt food products, exempt fertilizers, exempt insurers, exempt shippers,” he said.
The victims, who were mostly dealers of mobile phones and phone accessories at Bebeji Communication Market (Bebeji Plaza) in Gusau, the capital of Zamfara State were abducted in Sokoto 13 days ago.
Secretary of the GSM Dealers Association in the state, Ashiru Zurmi, confirmed the release of the victims but didn’t give details.
One of the victims reportedly died in captivity.
Though the amount paid as ransom to secure the release of the hostages has not been revealed, Abdullahi Lawal, whose brother was among those abducted, said their relatives were asked to make donations. He said his family raised N33,000 while the phone sellers’ association “provided the remaining money.”
“Every family was told to gather N400,000 while the members of the plaza and their colleagues in the state provided the remaining money. Some family members were able to raise the money in full, but we couldn’t. I took the money to the plaza and I was told that they were still negotiating with the bandits” he said.
He said he didn’t know how much was given to the bandits “but I’m happy that my brother is okay,” he said.
From N5m to N700,000
A phone accessories seller, Sharhabilu Muhammad, told PREMIUM TIMES over the phone that the officials of the phone dealers association negotiated with the bandits to reduce the ransom they originally demanded to release the captives.
“You know that the initial money they said was N5m for each of the captives but our officials kept negotiating with them (bandits) until they reduced the money to N700k,” he said.
When asked about the person who reportedly died in captivity, Mr Muhammed said his identity has not been revealed.
“We don’t know because even the bandits didn’t tell but we’ll surely find out when they (captives) arrive at Gusau tonight,” he added.
The police command spokesman, Mohammed Shehu, didn’t respond to calls and SMS sent to him on the development.
PREMIUM TIMES reported that the wedding guests were abducted when bandits opened fire on the two buses they were travelling in a few kilometres after Bimasa in the Dogon Awo junction, Sokoto State.
They were returning from Tambuwal town in Sokoto State where they had attended the wedding of a colleague, Jamil Umar.
The captives were travelling on a Toyota Coaster bus belonging to the Universal Basic Education Commission UBEC and another bus owned by Gusau Local Government.
The bandits had demanded a ransom of N145 million to release the 29 hostages.
Bandits have been terrorising North-west states and a part of North-central Nigeria, killing and displacing hundreds of people and rustling domestic animals.
Travelling on federal and local highways is becoming dangerous as bandits block roads, abduct and kill motorists.
Major federal highways including Abuja-Kaduna, Gusau-Sokoto-Birnin Kebbi, and Birnin Gwari-Kaduna have become travellers’ nightmares with attacks and abduction or killing of travellers becoming a daily occurrence.
A motion seeking the intervention of the House of Representatives in the conflict between the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Tanko Muhammad, and Justices of the Supreme Court, over issues bordering on welfare and working conditions suffered a setback on Thursday.
The Chairman of the House Committee on Judiciary, Onofiok Luke, had moved a motion to seek the intervention of the chamber in the crisis rocking the apex court and better welfare package for judicial officers across the courts.
Luke, who moved the motion titled, ‘Need to Address the Deteriorating Working Conditions of Judicial Officers,’ prayed the House to urge the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission to upwardly review the remuneration of judicial officers in line with present economic realities.
The lawmaker prayed the House to urge the Federal Government to increase the budgetary allocation of the judiciary for the upcoming fiscal year and provide special intervention funds for the development of the arm
He further prayed the House to mandate the Committee on Judiciary to ensure compliance and report back within six weeks for further legislative action.
While the lawmakers were making amendments to the prayers, the Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Wase, called for an upward review of the welfare package of all public office holders.
Wase, who stated that he appreciated the memo from the Justices to the CJN, noted that only the RMAFC had the responsibility to review remuneration of government officials.
The Deputy Speaker made reference to a part of the motion that read, ‘The remuneration of judicial officers was last reviewed in 2008 by the RMAFC when the official exchange rate was N117.74 to $1, whereas the naira has considerably depreciated.’
Wase partly said, “I think this particular element does not affect just judicial officers, maybe because they cried out now. I don’t think it is right that we have to wait every time until people write letters of complaints and there is protest before we begin to do the right thing.”
Rephrasing Wase’s proposed amendment, Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, said: “The DSP’s amendment is that we should not isolate the Judiciary and all those enumerated constitutional bodies and public office holders. They should be reviewed; a comprehensive review based on all the things that Hon Luke said – the exchange rates and this and that.”