Sarah Everard murder: Police watchdog to examine Met’s handling of earlier indecent exposure allegation against Wayne Couzens

On Feb 28, three days before Sarah Everard went missing, Wayne Couzens, a serving Metropolitan Police officer, allegedly exposed himself to two members of staff in a McDonald’s restaurant in Swanley, Kent.

The shocked victims reported the matter to the police and CCTV cameras identified the suspect’s car.

Tragically, and perhaps because it was simply seen as a low-level sexual offence, the matter was not treated as a priority, allowing Couzens to remain at liberty and even continue turning up for work.

Three days later, on March 3, he abducted, raped and murdered Sarah Everard, as she made her way home through south London following an evening with friends.

The Met’s handling of the indecent exposure case is now the subject of an investigation by the police watchdog, which will examine just why Couzens was not arrested before his behaviour escalated from flashing to murder.

It has now also emerged that Kent Police are being investigated by the IOPC over failures to investigate Couzens over an alleged indecent exposure in 2015, leading to questions about how seriously the police treat such offences.

The Met's handling of an indecent exposure case involving Pc Wayne Couzens is now under scrutiny

Credit: Kent Messenger / SWNS

Just hours before the incident at McDonald’s, Couzens had contacted the Enterprise Car Hire centre in Dover and inquired about booking a small hatchback car for 24 hours the following week.

Despite the fact he and his wife both had their own cars, he went ahead and booked a Vauxhall Astra, and after handing over his personal and payment details informed the attendant that he would collect the vehicle on the afternoon of March 3.

A tragic crossing of paths 

Couzens, 48, who was a member of Scotland Yard’s Diplomatic Protection Group, was due to begin a five-day period of leave that day. But he had not hired the car for recreational purposes.

After booking the vehicle, he then logged on to his Amazon account and bought a roll of self-adhesive film, which was advertised as carpet protector, "guaranteed to provide a protective barrier from liquid spillages such as paint, varnish, oil and much more".

Couzens, who worked out of the Met Police’s Empress State building in West Brompton, was part of an armed unit providing 24-hour-a-day security for some of London’s high-target foreign embassies.

He had been working nights but in the weeks before Sarah’s disappearance his behaviour had begun to take a sinister and erratic turn, as evidenced by the alleged flashing incident.

Just after 7am on March 3, Couzens clocked off from what was due to be his last shift for five days and he headed back to his family home in Deal, Kent. After catching up on some sleep, he went to Dover to collect the hire car, picking it up around 4.45pm.

He then headed back to London, arriving in the capital at around 7.30pm. It is not clear where he told his wife and family he was going.

At around the same time, Sarah, a 33-year-old marketing executive from south London, had decided to relieve the grinding monotony of lockdown by visiting some friends at their flat close to Clapham Common.

Sarah Everard journey from her friends’ flat

Setting off from her home in Brixton, where she lived alone, Sarah opted to get some exercise and walk the three miles to the far side of Clapham, rather than getting public transport.

On the way she stopped to buy a bottle of wine from the Sainsbury’s supermarket on Brixton Hill, before continuing on foot, sticking to the busy main roads that cut through south-west London.

Having just started a new job, Sarah was keen not to stay out too late and so after a couple of relaxing hours, she decided to head home, setting off from Leathwaite Road at around 9pm.

Aware of the potential dangers facing women out alone at night Sarah, who was very risk averse according to her family, opted to take the longer but better lit and busier route along the A205, rather than cutting across the Common.

At 9.13pm, as she made her way home she called her boyfriend, Josh Lowth, a fellow marketing executive who also lived in south London.

They chatted on the phone for around 14 minutes and made arrangements to meet the following afternoon.

Her journey home was also captured by various dashboard and doorbell cameras, as well as CCTV along the route.

CCTV footage of Sarah Everard captured earlier on the night she went missing shows her speaking on the phone

Credit: Metropolitan Police

Sarah ended her phone call to Josh at 9.28pm and four minutes later a marked police car that was travelling along the A205 South Circular road captured footage of her walking alone. She was not being followed.

At 9.35pm, a passing London bus, fitted with CCTV cameras, captured two people standing beside a white Vauxhall Astra car which was parked on the pavement with its hazard warning lights flashing.

Three minutes later, another London bus camera captured the same car but this time both the passenger and driver’s doors were open. It was the last time Sarah was seen alive.

How Couzens managed to entice her into the car and how he was able to subdue her throughout the two-hour journey back to Kent may be something that is never fully understood.

The country was still under tight Covid restrictions at the time and it has been suggested that Couzens may have used his police warrant card in order to approach Sarah on the street.

Where Sarah Everard was last seen

Tragically only two people know the truth of how their initial exchange went.  

But what is known is that around three-and-a-half hours after the final sighting of Sarah, the same Vauxhall Astra was spotted in the Tilmanstone area of Kent.

The following morning, just after 8.30am, Couzens returned the hire car to its base in Dover. How he spent the rest of the day is not known.

Later that afternoon, when Sarah failed to meet her boyfriend as arranged the previous evening, she was reported missing.

On March 5, two days after Sarah’s abduction, and three days before he was due back at work Couzens rang his bosses to tell them he was suffering from stress. 

Later that day he visited his local branch of B&Q, where he purchased two green rubble bags for £9.94.

When Sarah’s badly burned remains were eventually discovered they were found inside a green builders’ sack.

The assumption is therefore, that after raping and killing Sarah, Couzens hastily dumped her body before returning two days later to use the rubble bags he had bought especially for the job.

The following day, on March 6, Couzens was back in touch with his bosses at Scotland Yard, when he emailed his supervisor to inform him he no longer wished to carry a firearm.

A search for Sarah

Meanwhile the frantic search for Sarah was gathering pace.

With more than 50,000 people reported missing in London every year – the vast majority of who are found within 24 hours – the police were initially hopeful Sarah would still turn up safe and well.

But her sudden disappearance was so out of character that her loved ones instinctively knew that something was seriously wrong.

Sarah Everard's sudden disappearance was so out of character that her loved ones instinctively knew that something was seriously wrong

Credit: JULIAN SIMMONDS

Police and a sniffer dog searching Mount Pond on Clapham Common for Sarah Everard on March 8

Credit: Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire

By Friday March 5, Scotland Yard had also become worried enough to scale up its response, handing the case to its Specialist Crime unit which investigates homicides in the capital.

On Saturday March 6, a huge social media and poster campaign saw hundreds of wellwishers gather on Clapham Common to scour the area for clues.

On Monday 8 March, with Sarah having been missing for five days, Couzens was due back at work.

But instead of turning up he rang in sick, telling his bosses he was not well and was suffering from severe stress.

Meanwhile the fast-pace police investigation was making significant progress with detectives concentrating their inquiries around the Poynders Road area where Sarah had last been spotted on CCTV.

Recognising the significance of the white Vauxhall Astra, officers quickly checked the number plate and established it was a hire car.

Inexplicably when hiring the car Couzens had made no effort to hide his identity, even handing over his mobile number.

By early evening, detectives had identified their prime suspect and were stunned to discover he was one of their own.

At this stage police had every reason to hope Sarah could still be alive, so with time of the essence as they raced out of London towards Deal on the Kent coast.

At 7.50pm officers from Met’s murder squad swooped on Couzens’ home in Deal and immediately authorised an urgent interview in the desperate hope that they could locate Sarah.

But their efforts were in vain. She was already dead and her burned remains lay hidden in a stream 35 miles away in secluded woodland near Ashford.

Just 39 minutes before police arrived at his home Couzens wiped all data from his mobile phone, leading to questions about whether he was tipped off or whether he simply knew the net was closing in.

Sarah Everard Kent timeline and Locator Map

Even after his arrest, Couzens’s cowardly behaviour continued with him spinning an elaborate tale about how the abduction had been ordered by an Eastern European gang.

Twice while in custody being questioned Couzens had to be taken to hospital after smashing his head against the cell walls.

He answered "no comment" throughout questioning and at 8.45pm on March 12 was charged with Sarah’s murder.

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