Sarah Everard: Police officer Wayne Couzens pleads guilty to murder

ITV News Correspondent Rebecca Barry reports on the family anguish behind the Sarah Everard case, after Wayne Couzens pleads guilty to her murder

Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens has pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey to the murder of Sarah Everard.Couzens, 48, kidnapped Ms Everard in a hire car as she walked home alone from a friend’s house in Clapham, south London, on the evening of March 3.

The sexual predator, who had clocked off from a 12-hour shift that morning, went on to rape and strangle the 33-year-old marketing executive.

Police launched an urgent inquiry after Ms Everard was reported missing by her boyfriend Josh Lowth.

Couzens appeared at the Old Bailey via video link from Belmarsh high security prison. He was seen wearing a light blue sweatshirt, sitting with his head bowed and his hands clasped.

Wayne Couzens pleaded guilty to murder. Credit: Metropolitan Police

Ms Everard’s family were in court and watched as Couzens answered “guilty ma’am” when asked to enter his plea.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick apologised to the family of Ms Everard, adding in a statement outside the Old Bailey: “Everyone in policing feels betrayed.”

Outside court she said she had spoken to her family and told them “how very sorry I’m am for their loss, for their pain and their suffering”.

She said the force was “sickened, angered and devastated by this man’s crimes – they are dreadful”.

'Everyone in policing feels betrayed': Cressida Dick condemns Couzens outside court

Last month, the police constable accepted responsibility for killing Ms Everard and pleaded guilty to her kidnap and rape.

But Couzens did not at that stage enter a plea to a charge of murder pending medical reports.

Speaking of the probe into the murder of Sarah Everard, Lord Justice Fulford said: “This has been a mammoth investigation which has produced some very significant results in terms of being able to understand what happened.”

He set a two-day sentencing from September 29.

Jim Sturman QC, defending, said: “His pleas today represents a truly guilty plea and remorse for what he did and, as he put it to us this morning, he will bear the burden for the rest of his life – his words: ‘as I deserve’.”

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick was also at the Old Bailey for the hearing.

Prosecutor Tom Little QC told the court: “Before the defendant kidnapped Sarah Everard on the South Circular on March 3 this year, he had not previously met her, he did not know her and had no direct or indirect contact with her.

“They were total strangers to each other.”

How Couzens murdered Sarah Everard and tried to cover his tracks

In March, police were seen taking a car away from Couzens' home in Deal, Kent. Credit: PA

Couzens kidnapped Ms Everard in a hire car as she walked home alone from a friend’s house in Clapham, south London, on the evening of March 3.

The Pc, who had finished a 12-hour shift that morning, raped and strangled Ms Everard.

Police launched an urgent inquiry after Ms Everard was reported missing by her boyfriend Josh Lowth on March 4.

Couzens, a firearms-trained parliamentary and diplomatic protection officer, wiped his phone just minutes before he was arrested at his home in Deal, Kent, on March 9.

The following day – a week after she disappeared – Ms Everard’s body was found in a woodland stream in Ashford, Kent, just metres from land owned by Couzens.

The killing has sparked protests at the rate of violence against women.

Police were criticised over the manhandling of women at a vigil for Ms Everard attended by the Duchess of Cambridge.

Police faced allegations of acting in a heavy-handed manner at a vigil for Sarah Everard. Credit: PA/GMB/ITV

It can now be reported that Couzens, who joined the Met in 2018, had booked the hire of a Vauxhall Astra and bought a roll of self-adhesive film days before the murder.

At around 9pm on March 3, Ms Everard set off on foot for the two-and-a-half mile journey home, chatting with her boyfriend by mobile phone on the way.

A camera attached to a passing marked police car captured her walking alone at 9.32pm.

Just three minutes later, a bus camera appeared to capture the moment she was intercepted by Couzens in Balham, south London.

Two figures could be seen standing by the hire car, which was parked on the pavement with its hazard lights flashing.

After snatching Ms Everard, Couzens drove out of London, arriving in the area of Tilmanstone, near Deal, at 1am.

A vigil held for Sarah Everard Credit: Victoria Jones/PA

Investigators tracked the route of the car using CCTV and ANPR cameras and identified the driver as a serving officer through the car hire firm.

Couzens had used his personal details and bank card to make the booking, picking up the Vauxhall Astra on the afternoon of the abduction and returning it the next morning.

In the days that followed, Couzens reported that he was suffering from stress and did not want to carry a firearm any more, according to a case summary.

On March 8, the day he was due on duty, he reported in sick.

The next day, police arrested Couzens at 7.50pm – 39 minutes after he wiped the data from his mobile phone.

An elaborate lie

In a police interview, Couzens concocted an elaborate story and claimed to be having financial problems.

He said he had got into trouble with a gang of Eastern Europeans who threatened him and his family.

A gang demanded he deliver “another girl” after underpaying a prostitute a few weeks before, he said.

Court artist sketch of Pc Wayne Couzens attending the murder plea hearing. Credit: Elizabeth Cook/PA

He kidnapped Ms Everard, drove out of London and handed her over to three Eastern European men in a van in a layby in Kent, still alive and uninjured, Couzens claimed.

Meanwhile, police found out that Couzens and his wife had bought a small patch of woodland in 2019 in Ashford.

Phone data led officers to the site and at 4.45pm a body was found some 100 metres outside the property boundary.

The remains dumped in a stream inside a large green builders’ bag were identified as Ms Everard’s by dental records.

Sarah Everard's body was found in woodland in Ashford, Kent, a week after she disappeared. Credit: PA

Couzens seen on CCTV before murder

Further inquiries revealed that on the same day that Couzens booked the hire car, he bought a roll of self-adhesive film on Amazon.

Two days after Ms Everard was last seen, Couzens was caught on CCTV buying two green rubble bags at B&Q in Dover.

He went on to order tarpaulin and a bungee cargo net for delivery on March 7.

Even though Couzens’ phone had been wiped, cell site data linked him to the abduction and the area where Ms Everard was eventually found.

Not only was his device located there in the early hours of March 4 but also in the days leading up to his arrest.

The defendant went on to make no comment in formal interview and was charged on March 12.

No bail

During an earlier hearing, prosecutor Tom Little QC had outlined “significant” risks of Couzens reoffending if bailed.

He cited an alleged incident of indecent exposure on February 28 – days before the murder.

As part of a string of referrals in the case, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) said it was investigating whether Met Police officers responded appropriately to a report of indecent exposure at a fast food restaurant in south London.

Carolyn Oakley, Crown Prosecution Service specialist prosecutor in the Special Crime Division, said on Friday: “Today, Wayne Couzens pleaded guilty to the murder of Sarah Everard. This plea is as a result of a great deal of hard work by the prosecution team. The police should be commended for their thorough and tireless investigation into Sarah’s disappearance.

“Wayne 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.

“Today is not the day for hearing the facts about what happened to Sarah.  Today is a day to remember Sarah and our thoughts remain with her family and friends.”