Episode 6 – The Murder of Sarah Everard

When a person begins their service as a police officer, they swear to defend and protect people. They become part of a force that we as civilians are supposed to be able to trust to maintain safety and enforce laws to keep up community quality of life. But once in a while, it happens that a police officer breaks their oath and takes advantage of the position to do the exact opposite.

When a Metropolitan Police officer told 33-year-old Sarah Everard that she was arrested for breaching COVID-19 regulations, she agreed to go with him. There was no way for Sarah to know Wayne Couzens was not out that night as a police officer but as a predator hunting for prey.

Sarah Everard was born in Surrey in June 1987 to a close-knitted family that consisted of her parents, Susan and Jeremy Everard and her sister Katie and brother James. Sarah grew up in York, where she attended the nearby comprehensive Fulford School, where she was known as a “popular and well-liked member of the community” and “a lovely, bright, intelligent girl who shone within the school.” Sarah was one of those people everyone had only good things to say about. As Susan described her daughter:

“I remember all the lovely things about her. She was caring, she was funny. She was clever, but she was good at practical things too. She was a beautiful dancer. She was a wonderful daughter. She was always there to listen, to advise, or simply to share with the minutiae of the day. She was also a strongly principled young woman who knew right from wrong and who lived by those values. She was a good person. She had purpose to her life.”

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Sarah had a clear vision of how she wanted her life to be, and she worked hard to make her dreams come true. She studied human geography at St Cuthbert’s College at Durham University from 2005 to 2008. During that time, Sarah met one of her best friends, Rose and was starting an exciting new job as a senior marketing account manager.

In addition to career-related things, Sarah dreamed of buying her own house, getting married, and having children. Katie said she and her sister would often talk about ‘being each other’s bridesmaid, meeting her babies and being an auntie.’ And even though they were both still very young, the sisters were determined to grow old together and see who ‘got the most wrinkles.’

Sarah’s father, Jeremy, also later said they “loved being a part of Sarah’s world and expected her to have a full and happy life.” Sarah’s family could not have ever known they would soon see her beautiful face smiling down on them from a courtroom screen.

In 2021, 33-year-old Sarah had just started a new job at Flipside Group, a digital media agency based in Holborn. According to her friends, Sarah—who lived in the Brixton Hill area at the time—had been looking forward to her new position. On the evening of March 3, Sarah was visiting her friend in Clapham, south London, before leaving at around 9 PM. The journey back to her home should have taken 50 minutes—it was a straightforward walk that Sarah had taken so many times before.

On the way, she called her boyfriend, 33-year-old marketing director Josh Lowth. They talked for about 15 minutes until 9:28 PM. Meanwhile, Sarah was captured on CCTV several times on her way back to Brixton. The last time she was seen was on Poynders Road, near Clapham Common, where she was captured on a doorbell camera—then, Sarah vanished. By the next morning, nobody had heard from Sarah, so her friends began to worry. She had not let anyone know she had made it home, and she had not read or answered Josh’s texts. On top of that, Sarah did not attend a scheduled client meeting on the morning of March 4, which she would have never done without letting her boss know.

In the early evening, Josh went to Sarah’s flat, but she was not there either. At that point, Josh knew something was seriously wrong, and so he reported Sarah missing to the police. While adults over the age of 18 have the right to go missing in the UK, Sarah Everard’s case quickly became a high profile—straight from the start, it seemed that she had not disappeared of her own free will. As Sarah’s cousin Tom said:

“This is so totally out of character for her… we just need to get her home.”

Sarah’s friend filled social media with appeals and plastered Clapham with missing person posters with a picture of the smiling young woman. Meanwhile, the police searched Clapham Common for clues, then nearby Agnes Riley Gardens and the Poynders Gardens Estate. They scoured nearby ponds and visited 750 homes. More than 100 people called the station. The public response was huge—Sarah could have been anyone, anyone’s daughter, sister, or girlfriend. She had simply been walking home along a familiar route and vanished. It just did not make any sense. The situation became even more absurd when less than a week after Sarah’s disappearance, Scotland Yard confirmed a serving police officer had been arrested on suspicion of kidnap.

Wayne Couzens, born in 1973, was a mechanic at a Dover garage that was run by his family for decades until it closed in 2015 when his father Ray retired. Wayne had also served in the 3rd battalion, the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, of the Army Reserves for two years before joining the police force like his older brother, David.

By 2021, Wayne was married, a father of two young children and had been working for Met Police for three years. In February 2020, he was assigned to the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection branch, which protects diplomats, VIPs and high-profile buildings in the capital. And yet, on March 9, 2021, Wayne Couzens was arrested from his home in Deal, Kent, on suspicion of the kidnap and further the murder of Sarah Everard.

Apparently, during the investigation, the police had identified Wayne’s car on CCTV footage from a camera fixed to a bus traveling along the route where Sarah vanished the night of March 3. The vehicle was also spotted on a motorist’s dashcam near where Sarah was last seen and tracked by ANPR cameras. It is understood that Wayne worked a 2 PM to 8 PM relief shift on March 3 at the US Embassy in NineElms, South West London—around three miles from where Sarah was later walking.

CCTV, however, did not capture what exactly happened to her, but the evidence was enough for the police to go to speak with Wayne. Forty minutes before his arrest on March 9 at 7:50 PM, Wayne tried to wipe the data from his mobile phone. And when he was interviewed by the officers, Wayne made up a crazy story of what he had done with Sarah—after first claiming he did not recognize her at all from a photograph. According to Wayne, he was in “financial sh*t” and had been “leant on” by a gang from “Bulgaria, Romania and Albania” to pick up girls. So, Wayne was saying that he had kidnapped Sarah and handed her over to this gang—alive:

“If I could do something to get her back right this minute, I would. But I’ll do it again tomorrow if it means saving my family… these guys mean business.”

If Wayne’s story had been true, it could have given Sarah’s family a glimpse of hope. Maybe they could get her back after all. But unfortunately, Wayne Couzens was full of lies.

On the afternoon of March 10, human remains were discovered in Hoad’s Wood, approximately 110 yds from a plot of land that Wayne Couzens owned—while everyone already knew deep down who it was, the body was in such bad shape  immediate identification was impossible. Two days later, police announced the remains were indeed, that of Sarah Everard.

Sarah’s body had been found inside a large builder’s bag and had to be identified using dental records because she had been burned. After the horrible discovery, Sarah’s mother, Susan, said:

“He treated my daughter as if she was nothing and disposed of her as if she was rubbish. Burning her body was the final insult, it meant we could never again see her sweet face and never say goodbye.”

The post-mortem examination into Sarah’s death was held at the William Harvey hospital in Ashford. The findings indicated that she had died from compression of the neck.

Three days after Sarah was found, more than 1,500 people ignored the Covid regulations and went to Clapham Common to remember her. Despite the fact that the event was a vigil about police killing a young woman, the police tried to remove people, and male officers were seen grabbing several women and leading them off in handcuffs. Needless to say, photographs of what was happening at the vigil outraged people—the picture of student Patsy Stephenson being arrested made headlines worldwide.

Meanwhile, Wayne Couzens was charged with the murder of Sarah Everard on March 12, 2021. He pleaded guilty to kidnap and rape and admitted responsibility for Sarah’s death on June 8, and on July 9, he pleaded guilty to her murder.

At his sentencing hearing at the Old Bailey on September 29, people learned what Wayne had done to lure Sarah to go with him that night—and it was exactly what everyone had feared. Wayne Couzens had exploited his position as a police officer. He had arrested Sarah claiming she had breached Covid-19 regulations. CCTV caught Sarah sitting on the side of the road, handcuffed just six minutes after she had finished the call with Josh. A couple of witnesses had seen the situation too, but they did not question a police officer making an arrest.

Wayne then drove Sarah 80 miles to Kent—at some point during the ride, the young woman must have realized something was not right, but there was nothing she could have done. After taking Sarah to a secluded rural area, Wayne raped and murdered her. During the next couple of days, Wayne disposed of Sarah’s phone in a stream in Sandwich and returned to burn her body and possessions in Hoad’s Wood.

The attack was planned, but Sarah was chosen as a victim by chance. Wayne had spent at least a month traveling to London from Deal, Kent, to research how to carry out his sick fantasy of a violent sexual assault. On March 3, Wayne then went out hunting and found Sarah, who thought listening to a police officer was the right thing to do.

On September 30, Wayne Couzens was sentenced to life imprisonment with a tariff of whole life order. Such a sentence has never previously been imposed for a single murder where terrorism is not a factor. But Lord Justice Fulford justified the punishment saying that Wayne’s use of his position as a police officer was the “vital factor which in my view makes the seriousness of this case exceptionally high.”

Disturbingly, in March 2022, Wayne Couzens was further charged with four counts of indecent exposure. These alleged incidents occurred in January and February 2021—and back in 2015. One happened just three weeks before Sarah’s death, during which Wayne pulled up to McDonald’s Drive-Thru. The female employee described the incident by saying:

“The whole thing left me quite disturbed. He casually pulled up to the serving hatch, having ordered his food, and I could clearly see that he was naked from below the waist.”

The incident was reported, and yet, this man was able to hunt for a victim to rape and kill as a serving police officer less than a month later. Wayne’s arrest and conviction did not ease the public outrage, and people’s trust in the police plummeted. Actions have been taken since to review professional standards and internal culture within the force—but the truth is, there is a long, long way to go.

While Sarah Everard’s case will forever be remembered as a horrifying example of violence against women and exploitation of professional positions, her family does not want the tragedy to overshadow her life. Instead, Sarah is remembered as a beloved daughter, sister and friend whose life was defined by strength, hope and love.

Episode Credits: 

Host – Rhiannon Doe 

Voiceover – Kwesi 

Website layout & design – Fran Howard 

SOURCES

Boundless love – The story of Sarah Everard

Wayne Couzens: All we know about the officer who plead guilty to Sarah Everard

murder

DID HE USE COP ID?

Sarah Everard: Timeline of murder case that rocked the nation one year on

Sarah Everard died from compression of the neck, say police

Sarah Everard: What is the law on resisting arrest in UK?

Who was Sarah Everard and what do we know about her?

Sarah Everard: Met officer held over missing woman taken to hospital

Wayne Couzens: The Met police officer who pleaded guilty to murder of Sarah

Everard

Sarah Everard: Images show victim with her killer Wayne Couzens moments before

he abducted her, court hears

Sarah Everard died from compression of the neck, say police

Sarah Everard: How Wayne Couzens planned her murder

Sarah Everard: Post-mortem examination reveals more details about murder of

marketing executive found in Ashford

British Police Officer Charged With Murder in Killing of Sarah Everard

Daughter, sister, friend: Remembering the ‘brilliant, beautiful’ Sarah Everard

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