LONDON: A British police officer was sentenced to life in prison without parole on Thursday (Sep 30) for the murder of Sarah Everard as she walked home in the evening after visiting friends in south London, a case which stirred protests over male violence towards women.
Judge Adrian Fulford told Wayne Couzens, 48, his offences were "grotesque", after he snatched Sarah Everard off the streets of south London in March.
Everard's disappearance sparked one of Britain's most high-profile missing persons investigations and protests calling for better safety for women in public spaces.
Sentencing him at the Old Bailey in central London, the judge called Couzens' actions "devastating, tragic and wholly brutal" and said his victim was "wholly blameless".
"The misuse of a police officer's role such as occurred in this case in order to kidnap, rape and murder a lone victim is of equal seriousness as a murder for the purpose of advancing a political, religious ideological cause," he added.
Couzens abducted Everard, 33, in a hire car as she walked home from a friend's house in south London on Mar 3. Her body was found in woodland around 80km away in southeast England.
A post-mortem concluded she had died as a result of compression of the neck.
"Wayne Couzens treated her with vile depravity. It was a truly evil thing to do," Nick Price of the Crown Prosecution Service said.
"We all feel betrayed that Couzens abused his position as a police officer to commit such abhorrent crimes. All of us should be free to walk our streets safely."
The murder prompted public rallies and outpourings of anger from women who have recounted their own experiences and fears of being out alone at night.
Couzens, who served with the elite diplomatic protection unit of London's Metropolitan Police, was sentenced after a two-day hearing. His whole life sentence means he has no chance of parole.
One witness saw Everard being handcuffed before her abduction and police investigating the case said he may have used COVID-19 protocols as an excuse to falsely arrest her before killing her.
"Our lives will never be the same. We should be a family of five, but now we are four," Everard's mother Susan said in an impact statement, read out in court at the hearing.
"Her death leaves a yawning chasm in our lives that cannot be filled."
The Metropolitan Police Force, which investigated the murder and for whom Couzens worked, said it was "sickened, angered and devastated" by his crimes.
Commissioner Cressida Dick has apologised to Everard's family.
Britain's police watchdog is looking into police failures to investigate an indecent exposure incident linked to Couzens in 2015, and two further such allegations in February this year.
Opposition lawmaker Harriet Harman called on Dick to resign.
"Sarah Everard was simply walking home. Women must be able to trust the police not fear them. Women's confidence in police will have been shattered," Harman said on Twitter.