A police officer who abused Covid-19 lockdown regulations to kidnap Sarah Everard in a fake arrest then rape and strangle her was branded “a monster” in court by her distraught family.
The firearms officer, who had clocked off from a 12-hour shift at the American embassy that morning, drove to a secluded rural area near Dover in Kent where he parked up and raped Ms Everard.
The marketing executive, who lived in Brixton, south London, had been strangled with Couzen’s police belt by 2.30am the following morning.
Married Couzens burned her body in a refrigerator in an area of woodland he owned in Hoads Wood, near Ashford, Kent, before dumping the remains in a nearby pond.
Just days later, amid extensive publicity about Ms Everard’s disappearance, he took his family on a day out to the woods, allowing his two children to play close by.
Couzens concocted a story about being threatened by a gang when he was arrested at his Deal home on March 9 but later pleaded guilty to Ms Everard’s kidnap, rape and murder.
On Wednesday, Ms Everard’s parents and sister condemned her killer as he sat quaking in the dock with his head bowed at the start of his sentencing at the Old Bailey.
Her father Jeremy Everard demanded the killer look at him as he said: “I can never forgive you for what you have done, for taking Sarah away from us.”
Susan Everard said she was “incandescent with rage” at what he had done, saying he disposed of her daughter “as if she was rubbish”.
She added: “I am outraged that he masqueraded as a policeman in order to get what he wanted.”
Sister Katie Everard wept as she said: “My only hope is that she was in a state of shock and that she wasn’t aware of the disgusting things being done to her by a monster. When you forced yourself upon her and raped her.”
Met Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick also attended court to hear how one of her own officers had abused his position and used his warrant card to kidnap Ms Everard “by fraud” before detaining her “by force”.
Prosecutor Tom Little QC suggested the case was so exceptional and unprecedented that it could warrant a whole life order, meaning Couzens would die in jail.
Opening the facts of the case, he said Ms Everard’s disappearance was one of the most widely publicised missing person investigations the country has ever seen.
After her body was discovered a week later, it became summarised on social media by the hashtag “she was just walking home”, which did not completely describe what had happened, he said.
She was detained by fraud
Prosecutor Tom Little QC
“Whilst it is impossible to summarise what the defendant did to Sarah Everard in just five words, if it had to be done then it would be more appropriate to do so as deception, kidnap, rape, strangulation, fire,” said Mr Little.
The court heard Ms Everard was described by a former long-term boyfriend as “extremely intelligent, savvy and streetwise” and “not a gullible person”.
He said he could not envisage her getting into a car with someone she did not know “unless by force or manipulation”, said the prosecutor.
Couzens had worked on uniformed Covid patrols in late January to enforce coronavirus regulations, so would have known what language to use to those who may have breached them, he continued.
He is thought to have been wearing his police belt with handcuffs and a rectangular black pouch, similar to a pepper spray holder, when he kidnapped Ms Everard as she walked home.
“The fact she had been to a friend’s house for dinner at the height of the early 2021 lockdown made her more vulnerable to and more likely to submit to an accusation that she had acted in breach of the Covid regulations in some way,” said Mr Little.
The court heard how Couzens had booked a hire car before going out “hunting” for a lone young female to kidnap and rape.
Chilling CCTV footage played in court showed Couzens raising his left arm, holding a warrant card, before handcuffing Ms Everard and putting her into the back of the car.
A passing couple witnessed the kidnapping but mistook it for an arrest by an undercover officer, the court heard.
Mr 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.”
Couzens worked for the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Command after joining the Met in 2018, having transferred from the Civil Nuclear Constabulary.
He was sacked by the force after entering guilty pleas.
Scotland Yard said in a statement ahead of the sentencing hearing: “We are sickened, angered and devastated by this man’s crimes which betray everything we stand for.”
Lord Justice Fulford adjourned the case until Thursday when he will hand down his sentence.