Sarah Everard’s killer has pleaded guilty, but tough questions remain for police chiefs

Wayne Couzens, the Metropolitan Police officer who abducted Sarah Everard, pleaded guilty to her murder at the Old Bailey today.

Couzens, who was arrested five days after Everard, 33, went missing, had already admitted to rape and kidnap. Lord Justice Fulford praised the investigating officers who tracked Couzens, saying it was “astonishing the amount of work that has been done by this investigation in such a short space of time”.

Speaking outside the Old Bailey, the Met Police commissioner Cressida Dick said: “All of us in the Met are sickened, angered and devastated by this man’s crimes. They are dreadful. Everyone in policing feels betrayed.”

Tough questions remain for police chiefs about whether they take accusations by women against their own officers seriously. It has emerged that Couzens was reported for indecent exposure in Dover six years ago and again in London just three days before he murdered Sarah Everard.

Over the past three years, the Bureau has consistently found that police forces often do not take allegations by women against male officers as seriously as they should. We recently reported how the Met failed to suspend an officer accused of raping two policewomen. The allegations were serious, and the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority compensated both women.

Former partners of police officers claim there is a “boys’ club” culture where male officers look out and cover for their colleagues if there is a dispute. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary is now dealing with a super-complaint by the Centre for Women’s Justice that challenges forces to take allegations seriously. The complaint is based substantially on the Bureau’s work.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct said today it was “launching an investigation into alleged Kent police failures to investigate an indecent exposure incident linked to PC Couzens in Kent in 2015”. It also said it was conducting a separate investigation into “alleged MPS failures to investigate two allegations of indecent exposure linked to PC Couzens in London in February 2021. Two officers are being investigated for possible breaches of professional standards at misconduct level.”

The second set of allegations were made by staff at a McDonalds on 28 February this year. Staff supplied police with the number plate of the car Couzens owned and CCTV. That day, he booked the hire car that he would use to abduct Everard and bought plastic film advertised as “guaranteed to provide a protective barrier from liquid spillages such as paint, varnish, oil and much more”.

Three days later he picked up the hire car, drove to London and looked for a young woman to kidnap. Police believe he saw Everard on her own and targeted her.

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The 2015 allegation of indecent exposure in Dover, not far from his home in Deal, was when he was an armed police officer with the Civil Nuclear Constabulary. Questions will be asked about whether the Kent force failed to investigate properly because he was in the police and whether the Met knew about the allegation when he was selected as a firearms officer for the elite Diplomatic Protection Group.

Couzens’ guilty plea raises as many questions as it answers. Why has domestic abuse and other violence against women by police officers not received the close scrutiny it demands? What is it going to take for forces to take allegations seriously? The Bureau’s work suggests those questions and others need to be asked more widely than this one murder.

Investigations editor: Meirion Jones
Production editor: Emily Goddard

This report was supported by core Bureau funds. None of our funders have any influence over the Bureau’s editorial decisions or output.

Header image: CCTV of Sarah Everard captured earlier on the night she went missing. Credit: Metropolitan Police