Wife of killer campaigning against justice system weighted against women

Louise Howitt was encouraged to speak out for others and in solidarity with Sophie Moss, following the death of Sarah Everard

Wayne Couzens, the man who kidnapped, raped and murdered Sarah Everard, has been told he will spend the rest of his life in prison.  

Justice has been done, bringing to a close one of the most horrific and high profile cases imaginable.

Sarah’s death felt like a watershed moment, sparking grief, fury and promises from the government to make women safer and better served by the justice system.

But how quickly those promises are delivered really matters.   

Tragically, Sarah Everard is one of at least 109 women to be killed by a man this year, or where a man is the chief suspect. 

So far this year, at least 109 women have been killed by a man or a man is the chief suspect in their death. Credit: ITV News

Murder investigations are complex and so far only a handful of them have progressed through the courts.

But if the case of a mother of two, killed just two weeks before Sarah is anything to go by, there is still plenty of work to be done. 

Sophie Moss died two weeks before Sarah Everard. Credit: ITV News

Her name was Sophie Moss and she lived in a flat in Darlington. Sophie was choked to death by a man called Sam Pybus, who she had been seeing on and off.

Despite admitting killing her, three weeks ago Pybus was sentenced to just four years and eight months. His argument: that Sophie had encouraged him to strangle her during sex.

You may be surprised that just months after the government supposedly outlawed the use of “rough sex” as a defence, the Crown Prosecution Service agreed to reduce the murder charge to manslaughter, or that the judge concluded Pybus didn’t intend to harm Sophie. 

Sam Pybus choked Sophie Moss to death during sex. Credit: ITV News

What might also surprise you is that the woman who has  campaigned for a tougher sentence on Sophie’s behalf was, until very recently, Sam Pybus’ wife, Louise. 

Yesterday she learnt that the Attorney General has agreed to review that jail term as being “unduly lenient”.

If Sarah Everard’s death caused women from across the UK to unite in solidarity, the battle to get justice for Sophie is another moving example of sisterhood.  

The morning after he killed Sophie, Louise Howitt woke up to find  that her husband who she’d left downstairs, gaming on his Xbox, hadn’t come home.  When detectives knocked on her door, she assumed Sam must have gone out and been involved in a car accident. 

Instead, the first thing police asked is whether her husband had ever strangled her. 

That was the start of an investigation Louise now believes focused too hard on Sophie’s past but didn’t dig deeply enough into her husband’s behaviour patterns. 

Sam Pybus’ defence relied heavily on one of Sophie’s ex-boyfriends who said she’d encouraged him to choke her during sex. But Sophie was vulnerable, she was often intoxicated and was in poor mental and physical health. Louise believes that’s exactly why her now ex-husband targeted her. 

“Nobody consents to being strangled to death” Louise told me.

“She didn’t consent to that.”

She is furious it was Sophie’s past that was raked over rather than her attacker's. 

Louise Howitt says the shame of what happened does not sit with her or Sophie Moss, but with the perpetrator

Speaking of her own relationship with Pybus she said: “I think if the CPS and the police had really looked into some of his past, they would have uncovered a history of sexual violence and emotional abuse. And more than anything, a complete lack of respect for women, and misogyny.

"Instead, what they did was go out and find evidence to support what Sam said.

“They went out and interviewed Sophie's ex-boyfriend, and he said that she did enjoy being strangled. But she's not here to say that”.

As a teacher, Louise Howitt believes more education on porn and violence against women needs to be delivered in schools

If the Court of Appeal decides not to increase his sentence, Sam Pybus will only serve around two years in prison. Louise believes Sophie and her family deserve more than that. 

Her former husband strangled Sophie and silenced her forever. But the woman he married is determined to use her voice to campaign for justice in a system that so often still seems weighted against women.