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Wayne Couzens took family on trip to woods where he burnt Sarah Everard’s body days before arrest, court told

Written by on 29/09/2021

A former police officer who kidnapped, raped and murdered Sarah Everard took his wife and two children on a family trip to the woods where only days earlier he had burned Ms Everard’s body, a court has heard.

Wayne Couzens, 48, was a serving PC with the Metropolitan Police when he used his position to arrest and abduct Ms Everard as she walked home in Clapham, south London, on the evening of 3 March.

He had come off a 12-hour shift that morning, when he raped and killed the 33-year-old marketing executive, before later setting fire to her body in a woodland in Kent.

Wayne Couzens sentencing – follow live updates

Sarah Everard
Image: The murder of the 33-year-old marketing executive sparked outrage and protests at the rates of violence against women

Speaking during the first day of a two-day sentencing hearing at the Old Bailey, Prosecutor Tom Little QC said Couzens took his wife and two children on a family trip to Hoads Wood on 7 March, where only days earlier he had burned Ms Everard’s body before dumping her in a pond.

En route, he withdrew cash from the same service station he had been to shortly after raping and murdering his victim, the court heard.

Mr Little said: “It follows that the defendant took his family on a family trip to the very woods where days earlier he had left Sarah Everard’s body, then returned to burn it and then returned again to move it and hide it.”

Couzens allowed his children to play in “relatively close proximity to where Ms Everard’s body had been dumped in the pond”, he added.

Couzens was arrested on 9 March and Ms Everard’s body found the following a day – a week after she initially went missing.

Opening the hearing Mr Little said Couzens’ crimes could be summarised in five words: “Deception, kidnap, rape, strangulation, fire.”

Ms Everard had dinner with a friend in Clapham Junction and was on her way home to Brixton when she was “arrested” by Couzens during the third lockdown.

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‘Sarah Everard was handcuffed before abduction’

Couzens, then a serving diplomatic protection officer with the Metropolitan Police, handcuffed her around 9.34pm after showing her his warrant card, the court heard.

Mr Little said Couzens was familiar with coronavirus regulations and may have used lockdown rules to falsely detain Ms Everard.

She was described by a former long-term boyfriend as “extremely intelligent, savvy and streetwise” and “not a gullible person” who he could envisage getting into a car with a stranger “unless by force or manipulation”.

Couzens was said to be wearing his police belt with handcuffs and a rectangular black pouch, similar to a pepper spray holder, when he confronted Ms Everard.

He put her in the back of a Vauxhall Astra – hired using his own personal details and bank card – around 9.37pm.

The married father-of-two then set off for Kent, 80 miles away, a minute later. Around 11.30pm Ms Everard was transferred from the hire car to Couzens’ own Seat car, which was left in a non-residential area in Dover.

Sarah Everard's body was found in woodland in Ashford, Kent
Image: Sarah Everard’s body was found in a woodland in Ashford, Kent – metres from land owned by Couzens

The kidnapping took less than five minutes in total.

Couzens then drove to a remote rural area northwest of Dover where he parked up and raped Ms Everard, the Old Bailey was told.

The Seat car was picked up on an ANPR camera on a road in the town at 2.31am. According to Mr Little, “it is by this point that Sarah Everard is most likely to have been murdered”.

The moment Couzens confronted Ms Everard in south London was caught on security footage and witnessed by a couple travelling in a car.

She was a mile from home when cameras from two buses, a refuse lorry and a marked police car caught footage of Couzens talking to Ms Everard by the car, which was parked on the pavement with its hazard lights on and doors open.

The female passenger in the vehicle said she saw Couzens and Ms Everard standing on the pavement. She watched as Ms Everard was handcuffed, Mr Little told the court.

“Sarah Everard was compliant, with her head down and did not appear to be arguing,” he said.

Mr Little added that the female passenger believed she was witnessing an undercover police officer arresting a woman whom she assumed “must have done something wrong”.

File photo dated 14/03/2021 of police outside the home of Wayne Couzens, in Freemens Way in Deal, Kent, after a body found hidden in woodland in Ashford was identified as that of 33-year-old Sarah Everard. Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens, 48, has pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey in London to the murder of Sarah Everard. Issue date: Friday July 9, 2021.
Image: Police outside the home of Wayne Couzens, in Freemens Way in Deal, Kent

She remarked to her husband that she had seen “a woman being handcuffed”, when “they were in fact witnessing the kidnapping of Sarah Everard”, Mr Little said.

The next day on 4 March, Couzens took Ms Everard’s mobile phone and threw it into a river in Sandwich, Kent. A broken fragment of an EE sim card from the phone was later found in his Seat, the court heard.

Couzens, who the court was told was thousands of pounds in debt, wiped his phone just minutes before he was arrested at his home in Deal on 9 March.

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

Fragments of her clothing were found in nearby woodland, where her body had been burnt.

Mr Little said that while Couzens was in the wood he must have “moved Sarah Everard’s heavily burnt body from where he had set fire to it, to the pond where she was subsequently found” using bags he bought from B&Q on 5 March.

In July, Couzens pleaded guilty to Ms Everard’s murder, kidnap and rape by video link from jail.

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Couzens ‘should never have been near a uniform’

The court heard how Couzens would wear his police belt and handcuffs while off duty and that he had a profile on Match.com in which he gave various false details about himself. He was also in contact with an escort through an escort service.

The police watchdog has received a string of referrals relating to the Couzens case, with 12 police officers being investigated.

A senior investigator on Sarah Everard’s case, former DCI Simon Harding, told Sky News police officers “do not view” Couzens as a police officer and he “should never have been near a uniform”.

Speaking outside the Old Bailey in July, Met Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick said she was “very sorry” for the loss, pain and suffering of the Everard family.

She said: “All of us in the Met are sickened, angered and devastated by this man’s truly dreadful crimes. Everyone in policing feels betrayed.”

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Sarah Everard was ‘handcuffed and powerless’

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) said it was looking at whether the Met failed to investigate two allegations of indecent exposure relating to Couzens in February, just days before the killing.

Kent Police are also being investigated over their response to a third allegation of indecent exposure dating back to 2015.

Ahead of Wednesday’s hearing, a spokesperson from the Metropolitan Police said: “We are sickened, angered and devastated by this man’s crimes which betray everything we stand for.

“Our thoughts are with Sarah’s family and her many friends. It is not possible for us to imagine what they are going through.

“We recognise his actions raise many questions and concerns but we will not be commenting further until the hearing is complete.”

 Sky News

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