Wayne Couzens used his police warrant card and handcuffs to lure Sarah Everard off the street before strangling her with his police belt and burning her body, depriving her family of the chance to say a final goodbye, a court has heard.
Video footage released on Wednesday showed Couzens, then a serving Metropolitan police officer, staging a false arrest of Everard as she returned from a friend’s house in south London in March during a period of coronavirus lockdown measures.
He handcuffed her in the back seat of his car and “that was the start of her lengthy ordeal, including an 80-mile journey [to Kent] whilst detained which was to lead first to her rape and then her murder”, Tom Little QC told the Old Bailey.
“At some point fairly soon after driving from the pavement on to the South Circular and having not gone to a police station, Sarah Everard must have realised her fate.”
Everard’s mother, Susan, told the court she remained “tormented” at the thought of what her 33-year-old daughter endured.
The full details of Couzens’ crimes were laid bare for the first time at a hearing to decide whether he should be sentenced to die in jail. The prosecution said the crimes were so serious, involving the abuse of his position and trust as a police officer, they might merit him being sentenced to a whole-life tariff.
Couzens kept his head bowed in court. Everard’s father, Jeremy, and other daughter, Katie, each asked that Couzens face them before they began addressing him directly. He lifted his head slightly but did not look at them.
Everard’s murder rocked Britain and led to an outcry over women’s safety on the streets. Police fear the full details of the crime will trigger growing revulsion and anger.
Couzens, 48, hired a car and bought adhesive tape before “hunting for a lone young female to kidnap and rape” as part of a premeditated mission on the night Everard was abducted, the prosecution told the court on the first day of a two-day sentencing hearing.
Little said Everard, a marketing executive, was seized on 3 March before being driven to Kent, where Couzens killed her and left her body in the countryside.
Police released images of Couzens wringing his hands as he bought a drink and a bakewell tart the following day. Days later he returned to the scene, where he had set up a makeshift pyre to burn his victim’s body, for a day trip with his wife and two children.
Couzens, who had worked a night shift as an armed Met police officer guarding the US embassy in London hours before the kidnapping, got Everard into the hire car “by handcuffing her, as well as showing her his warrant card”, Little said.
Couzens may have used the pretext that Everard had broken Covid lockdown regulations to stop her, the court heard. He had undertaken police Covid patrols and knew what language to use to those who may have breached the rules.
Couzens was off duty at the time but wore his police belt. He encountered Everard at around 9.30pm as she made what should have been a 50-minute walk home.
A woman who witnessed the start of Couzens’ kidnapping of Everard saw him handcuff her on the pavement. Little said the passerby thought she was witnessing an undercover police officer arresting a woman, whom she assumed “must have done something wrong”.
The witness then saw Couzens walking Everard, her hands cuffed behind her back, towards his car. Little said Everard may have been more vulnerable to an accusation of breaching Covid rules because she had been to a friend’s place for dinner during the lockdown.
Little said: “She was detained by fraud. The defendant using his warrant card and handcuffs as well as his other police issue equipment to effect a false arrest.” He told the court Everard was the victim of “deception, kidnap, rape, strangulation, fire”.
In Kent the Met officer switched cars and raped his victim, the court heard. He used his police issue belt to strangle Everard. “The defendant informed the psychiatrist that he strangled Sarah Everard using his belt. Given all the circumstances this would be consistent with his police belt,” Little told the court.
Couzens was caught on CCTV crisscrossing Kent after the murder, as he started hiding his crimes. He filled a can with petrol and set about burning Everard’s body in a field and “moved her body in green bags purchased specifically for that task”, Little said.
Couzens appeared in person at the Old Bailey in central London wearing a dark blue suit and mask. He sat, head bowed and eyes closed, as the details of Everard’s ordeal were heard.
The court heard Couzens had tried to dispose of Everard’s mobile phone and that semen was found on her body. A fragment of Everard’s sim card was found in a car Couzens used.
Police released video of Couzens claiming to officers, when arrested at home, that he had kidnapped Everard because he was being threatened by a gang and was forced to hand her over to them. This was a lie, the prosecution said.
A recording of Couzens calmly ringing a vet days after the abduction to make an appointment for his dog, saying it might be suffering separation anxiety, was also released.
Everard’s body was recovered seven days after the abduction, from woodland near Ashford in Kent, about 20 miles west of Couzens’ home in Deal. It was hidden and wrapped in a builder’s bag Couzens had bought days earlier. Everard was identified from her dental records. A postmortem showed she had died from compression of the neck.
Couzens was arrested at his home in Deal on 9 March, first on suspicion of kidnap. The next day, while in police custody, he was arrested on suspicion of murder.
An armed officer in the Met’s elite parliamentary and diplomatic protection group, Couzens pleaded guilty to the kidnap, rape and murder of Everard at earlier court hearings, and was subsequently sacked by the Met. On Wednesday the court heard Couzens was £29,000 in debt and in dispute with the Met over his pay.
The kidnapping and murder of Everard triggered a national debate about the safety of women in the UK and whether the criminal justice system does enough to protect them and punish those who attack them.
Lord Justice Fulford will decide on the minimum length of Couzens’ life sentence on Thursday.