Policeman who raped, murdered UK woman gets life in prison

Wayne Couzens abused his authority and deceived Ms Sarah Everard into thinking that she was under arrest. PHOTOS: AFP

LONDON (NYTIMES) - The police officer who abducted, raped and murdered Ms Sarah Everard has been sentenced to life in prison by Britain's top criminal court, after two days of hearings that reignited outrage at the way London's police department handles cases involving violence against women.

The sentence on Thursday (Sept 30) came a day after prosecutors detailed how the officer, Wayne Couzens, abused his authority and, under the guise of the coronavirus restrictions imposed during a national lockdown in March, deceived Ms Everard into thinking that she was under arrest.

Judge Adrian Bruce Fulford, in explaining why Couzens would not be eligible for parole, said that he had "irretrievably damaged the lives of Ms Sarah Everard's family and friends" and "eroded the confidence that the public are entitled to have to the police force in England and Wales".

The sentencing hearing laid bare the extent to which Couzens wielded his powers as a police officer in the horrific attack.

Prosecutors detailed how he used his official credentials, equipment and training to carry out the crime, revelations that shocked rights activists and lawmakers who are sceptical that the department has made progress on overhauling its approach to policing violence against women.

During sentencing on Thursday, Judge Fulford said that the "misuse of a police officer's role" justified the steepest possible sentence.

The hearings also brought renewed calls on Thursday for the resignation of Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick, who has been under fire for the department's response to the killing ever since Ms Everard's charred body was found in the woods near Kent last March.

Commissioner Dick, who had been in court throughout the sentencing hearing, acknowledged that public trust in the police had been "rocked", and apologised on behalf of the department.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement that the government would do "everything possible to prevent these abhorrent crimes and keep our communities safe".

"Our police are there to protect us - and I know that officers will share in our shock and devastation at the total betrayal of this duty," he said. "People must be able to walk on our streets without fear of harm and with full confidence that the police are there to keep them safe."

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Many activists have been critical of what they see as a failure by police to investigate accusations of previous sexual misconduct by Couzens. The Independent Office for Police Conduct began an investigation this summer into allegations that Kent Police failed to look into reports of indecent exposure by Couzens in 2015.

The office is also looking into whether the Metropolitan Police investigated two additional reports of indecent exposure incidents linked to Couzens in February, just days before Ms Everard's murder.

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