Sarah Everard's family say knowing Wayne Couzens 'will be imprisoned forever brings some relief'

The family of Sarah Everard have expressed relief that the police officer who kidnapped, raped and murdered her will die in prison.

Court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook of Lord Justice Fulford sentencing former police officer Wayne Couzens at the Old Bailey in London.
Court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook of Lord Justice Fulford sentencing former police officer Wayne Couzens at the Old Bailey in London.

Wayne Couzens, 48, was handed a whole life sentence on Thursday for killing the 33-year-old marketing executive from York after using his warrant card and handcuffs to snatch her off the street using Covid lockdown rules to make a false arrest.

The Metropolitan Police firearms officer, who had clocked off from a 12-hour shift at the US embassy that morning, drove his victim 80 miles before raping her, strangling her to death with his police belt and burning her body.

In his sentencing on Thursday, Lord Justice Fulford said the case in which a serving officer abused his position was so exceptional it warranted a whole life order.

Couzens stood shaking slightly in the dock as he was sentenced, but did not lift his head to face his victim’s family, who calmly looked on from the well of the court as he shuffled out of court.

Ms Everard’s parents, Jeremy and Susan, clasped hands and hugged police officers after he was taken down to the cells.

The family have now issued a statement saying: "We are very pleased that Wayne Couzens has received a full life sentence and will spend the rest of his life in jail. Nothing can make things better, nothing can bring Sarah back, but knowing he will be imprisoned forever brings some relief.

"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.

"It is almost seven months since Sarah died and the pain of losing her is overwhelming. We miss her all the time. She was a beautiful young woman in looks and character and our lives are the poorer without her. We remember all the lovely things about Sarah - her compassion and kindness, her intelligence, her strong social conscience. But we especially like to remember her laughing and dancing and enjoying life. We hold her safe in our hearts.

"We are immensely grateful to the police and legal team who worked on Sarah’s case. We cannot thank them enough for their meticulous and painstaking work and for their constant support. We also send our heartfelt thanks to our family and friends for comforting us through this terrible time."

In his sentencing, Lord Justice Fulford said Couzens had researched how best to commit his crimes for at least a month before abducting Ms Everard as she walked home from a friend’s house in Clapham, south London, on the evening of March 3.

“You kidnapped, raped and murdered Sarah Everard, having long planned a violent sexual assault on a yet-to-be-selected victim who you intended to coerce into your custody,” he told Couzens.

“You have irretrievably damaged the lives of Sarah Everard’s family and friends.”

The judge described Ms Everard as “a wholly blameless victim of a grotesquely executed series of offences that culminated in her death and the disposal of her body”.

“I have not the slightest doubt that the defendant used his position as a police officer to coerce her on a wholly false pretext into the car he had hired for this purpose,” he said.

“It is most likely that he suggested to Sarah Everard that she had breached the restrictions on movement that were being enforced during that stage of the pandemic.”

Met Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick, who was in court for the sentencing, is facing fresh calls to resign after the case sparked a national outcry and a debate over the safety of women.

Harriet Harman MP has asked Home Secretary Priti Patel to carry out urgent action to “rebuild the shattered confidence of women in the police service” and told Dame Cressida she needed to step aside to “enable these changes to be taken through”.

Ms Everard, who lived in Brixton, south London, may have been alive for up to five hours before she was strangled to death, the court heard.

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.

The judge said her state of mind in her final hours “would have been as bleak and agonising as it is possible to imagine”.

Couzens would have needed to apply pressure to her neck for more than two minutes to kill her, the judge said.

He described how Couzens acted “entirely as normal” following the murder, carrying out “prosaic” tasks, including booking dental appointments for his children, and even taking his family for a day out to the site where he had disposed of Ms Everard’s body.

The judge said the seriousness of the case was so “exceptionally high” that it warranted a whole life order.

“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,” said the judge.

“You have eroded the confidence that the public are entitled to have in the police forces of England and Wales.

“It is critical that every subject in this country can trust police officers when they encounter them and submit to their authority, which they are entitled to believe is being exercised in good faith.

“You have utterly betrayed your family.

“Your wife and children, who on all the evidence are entirely blameless, will have to live with the ignominy of your dreadful crimes for the rest of their lives.

“You have very considerably added to the sense of insecurity that many have living in our cities, perhaps particularly women, when travelling by themselves and especially at night.”

The judge paid tribute to the dignity of Ms Everard’s family, whose statements in court on Wednesday revealed the human impact of Couzens’ “warped, selfish and brutal offending which was both sexual and homicidal”.

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 March 10.

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

Lord Justice Fulford told him: “Notwithstanding your guilty pleas, therefore, I have seen no evidence of genuine contrition on your part as opposed to evident self-pity and attempts by you to avoid or minimise the proper consequences of what you have done.

“Those consequences are that on the count of murder you will be imprisoned for life and the tariff is a whole life order.”