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.
The Supreme Court has affirmed Ademola Adeleke as the authentic candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP in the just concluded Osun State Governorship Election.
This has laid to rest the suit filed by Dotun Babayemi, a governorship aspirant of the party who sought the invalidation of Adeleke’s victory.
In a judgement delivered by Justice Amina Augie, the five-member panel held that the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the suit after counsel for the appellant, Adebayo Adelodun, withdrew the earlier notice of appeal that was filed within time.
At the resumed hearing, Adelodun, who represented the appellant and Babayemi informed the court that he sought to withdraw the earlier notice of appeal to replace it with the fresh application he filed.
But the panel held that Section 285(11) of the constitution stipulated that an appeal on a pre-election matter must be filed within 14 days from the day of the decision, and that having filed the second appeal out of time, the apex court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the matter.
Justice Augie, therefore, dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.
Babayemi had asked the court to invalidate the primary election that produced the governor-elect, citing non-compliance with a court order.
The British Broadcasting Corporation BBC world service has on Thursday disclosed that about 400 of its staff will lose their jobs as part of a cost-cutting programme and move to digital platforms,
The BBC said its international services needed to make savings of £28.5 million ($31 million) as part of wider reductions of £500 million.
In July it detailed plans to merge BBC World News television and its domestic UK equivalent into a single channel to launch in April next year.
BBC World Service currently operates in 40 languages around the world with a weekly audience of some 364 million people.
But the corporation said audience habits were changing and more people were accessing news online, which along with a freeze on BBC funding and increased operating costs meant a move to “digital-first” made financial sense.
BBC World Service director Liliane Landor said there was a “compelling case” for expanding digital services, as audiences had more than doubled since 2018.
“The way audiences are accessing news and content is changing and the challenge of reaching and engaging people around the world with quality, trusted journalism is growing,” she added.
However, Floridians were warned that the most dangerous 24 hours lay ahead and the mayor of Tampa urged people to shelter in place through the night into Thursday morning.
“We are going to get the majority of the rain and the higher winds starting about 20:00, and they are going to last throughout the night,” Jane Castor said during a Wednesday evening briefing.
In a message posted on Facebook, the Weather Prediction Center told residents in the Central Florida Peninsula to expect “widespread life-threatening, catastrophic flash and urban flooding” continuing into Friday morning, with potentially up to 76cm (30ins) of rain falling locally.
Residents were ordered to leave their homes, but many have decided to remain and seek shelter indoors.
Mark Pritchett, who lives in the city of Venice, some 95km (60 miles) south of Tampa, described the “terrifying” moment he stepped outside his home as the hurricane made its way across the Gulf of Mexico.
“Rain shooting like needles. My street is a river,” he said in a text message to the Associated Press news agency.
In Lee County – the south-west region where Ian made landfall – police were prevented from responding to reports of looting at a petrol station because of the storm damage.
As a result, a curfew has been declared “until further notice”.
Lee County Manager Roger Desjarlais said that the Fort Myers community had “been – to some extent – decimated”. According to news agency AFP, some neighbourhoods in the city of 80,000 had been left resembling lakes.
State Governor Ron DeSantis described Ian as the “biggest flood event” south-west Florida had ever seen, and announced that 7,000 National Guard troops are ready to lead rescue operations in flood zones.
President Joe Biden will receive a briefing on Thursday from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Ian is now continuing to move north through Florida. Jacksonville International Airport, based in north-east Florida, cancelled all flights scheduled for Thursday.
The storm is forecast to emerge into the Atlantic by Thursday morning.
It is expected to reach Georgia and South Carolina on Friday. Virginia has also joined Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida by declaring a state of emergency.
Cuba’s western coast was hit by Hurricane Ian on Tuesday. Power has now been restored in some areas after the island was plunged into a total blackout. Two people are understood to have been killed in Cuba and more than 20 Cuban migrants are believed to be missing at sea.