London (AFP), Jul 9 – A British police officer on Friday pleaded guilty to the murder of a woman whose disappearance sparked outrage and a national debate about women’s safety.
Wayne Couzens, 48, who served in the Metropolitan Police’s elite diplomatic protection unit, had already confessed to kidnapping Sarah Everard. On Friday he also pleaded guilty to her murder, appearing via video link at London’s Old Bailey court.
Everard, a 33-year-old marketing executive, went missing while walking home in south London on the evening of March 3.
Her disappearance led to vigils and protests, and prompted the government to promise enhanced police patrols at night, as well as funding to make the streets safer for women.
Couzens was wearing khaki trousers and a blue sweatshirt as he appeared remotely from a high-security prison in London, bowing his head as he admitted to the killing.
He pleaded guilty last month to the charge of kidnapping Everard “unlawfully and by force or fraud” on March 3, and also to a second charge of rape between March 2 and 10.
Everard’s family sat in the court as Couzens entered his latest plea.
Everard had been visiting friends in the Clapham area and was returning to her home in nearby Brixton when she disappeared.
Her body was discovered a week later in woods some 80 kilometres (50 miles) away in Kent, southeast England.
The Metropolitan Police said that a post-mortem examination gave the cause of death as “compression of the neck”.
Couzens is due to be sentenced at the end of September.
– ‘Appalling crime’ –
Crown Prosecution Service lawyer Carolyn Oakley said Couzens “lied to the police when he was arrested and to date, he has refused to comment”.
“We still do not know what drove him to commit this appalling crime against a stranger,” she said.
Couzens had just finished a 12-hour shift when he committed the crime. Police were alerted when Everard was reported missing by her boyfriend.
Couzens had booked a hire car and bought a roll of self-adhesive cling film days before the murder, the court heard.
Camera footage from a passing bus appeared to capture the moment when Couzens intercepted Everard in Balham, south London, as the pair stood by the hire car.
The arrest of a serving officer and the heavy-handed approach to dispersing a vigil in Everard’s honour — which contravened coronavirus rules — led to criticism over the culture within London’s Metropolitan Police force.
– Police criticism –
A month later, two officers were also charged over inappropriate photographs believed to have been taken of two murdered sisters and later circulated with colleagues.
The victims’ mother Wilhelmina Smallman accused the media and police of not taking their case as seriously, because the sisters were not white.
“We are on a journey to say that we all matter and actually I can now use this specific situation of my girls and Sarah, they didn’t get the same support, the same outcry,” she told the BBC.
“Other people have more kudos in this world than people of colour.”
Met police chief Cressida Dick said the force was “sickened, angered and devastated” by Couzens’ crimes, and that she had told Everard’s family “how very sorry I am for their loss, for their pain and their suffering”.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct meanwhile said it had served 12 officers from several forces with notices for gross misconduct or misconduct, following their conduct during the Everard investigation.
Officers from “a number of forces” are alleged to have shared information linked to the prosecution of Couzens via a messaging app.
The police unit is also investigating an “inappropriate graphic” relating to the case that was shared on social media.