Wayne Couzens was condemned to die in prison after a judge said exploiting his role as a police officer to kidnap, rape and murder Sarah Everard was on a par with a terrorist murder.
The former Scotland Yard officer joins Thomas Mair, the far-Right extremist who murdered Jo Cox, the Labour MP, and Islamist terrorist Michael Adebolajo, who beheaded drummer Lee Rigby, as one of the country’s most notorious inmates who will never be released.
Jim Sturman QC, defending, had argued that Couzens should not receive a full life sentence because he had shown genuine remorse and had pleaded guilty at the first opportunity, sparing Miss Everard’s family the agony of a protracted trial.
He also argued that there was no evidence to suggest that Couzens had set out with the deliberate intention to murder his victim.
You treated Sarah as if she was nothing
Mr Sturman said his family were at a loss as to understand why he had acted in the way he had and said colleagues in the police had described him as being “calm and friendly”.
“He appears to have been living a law-abiding life with a loving family,” he said.
But the judge, Mr Justice Fulford, said he had seen no sign of any genuine contrition from Couzens and said it was clear he had spent more than a month making trips to London in order to research how best to commit his crime.
Trust in police is damaged
On Wednesday, the Old Bailey heard how Couzens had used the Covid-19 lockdown laws to effect a false arrest on Miss Everard, who was walking home in south London on the evening of March 3 after visiting a friend.
The judge said this abuse of his role as a police officer to trick Miss Everard had damaged trust in the police and had jeopardised one of the fundamental safeguards of law of order in this country.
He said the breach of public trust by Couzens meant the offence was so serious it was on a par with a terrorist killing.
Sarah Everard exits Sainsbury's carrying a shopping bag shortly before she was kidnapped
Flashing his warrant card, Couzens handcuffed Miss Everard before placing her in the back of his hire car and driving her to Kent where he raped and murdered her.
The judge said: “Her state of mind and what she had to endure over a journey of 80 miles and during the final hours of her life would have been as bleak and agonising as it is possible to imagine.”
The court heard that Couzens suffered from mild depression but that there was no link between that condition and the horrific offences he was responsible for.
He went on: “If a police officer uses his office to kidnap, rape and murder a victim, the seriousness of the offence is exceptionally high.
‘Officers are in a unique position’
“In my judgment the police are in a unique position, which is essentially different from any other public servants.
“They have powers of coercion and control that are in an exceptional category. In this country it is expected that the police will act in the public interest; indeed, the authority of the police is to a truly significant extent dependent on the public’s consent, and the power of officers to detain, arrest and otherwise control important aspects of our lives is only effective because of the critical trust that we repose in the constabulary, that they will act lawfully and in the best interests of society.
Sarah Everard murder map – Dover
“If that is undermined, one of the enduring safeguards of law and order in this country is inevitably jeopardised. In my judgment, 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 carried out for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause.
“All of these situations attack different aspects of the fundamental underpinnings of our democratic way of life. It is this vital factor which in my view makes the seriousness of this case exceptionally high.”
Sarah Everard murder map – Kent
Evident self-pity but no genuine contrition
Addressing Couzens directly he went on: “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.”
He added: “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.”
Miss Everard’s family welcomed the sentence and said: “The world is a safer place with him imprisoned.”