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Sarah Everard's murderer, London police officer Wayne Couzens, sentenced to life in prison

London — A London police officer was sentenced to life in prison on Thursday for the rape and murder of Sarah Everard. The sentence — the maximum in the U.K., where there is no death penalty — was handed down by a court after two days of hearings where prosecutors argued that Wayne Couzens had falsely arrested Everard before raping and killing her.  

"In my judgement, 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 carried out for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, racial, or ideological cause," Justice Adrian Fulford said. "All of these situations attack different aspects of the fundamental underpinning of our democratic way of life."

Everard, a 33-year-old marketing executive, was abducted from a London street in early March while walking home from dinner at a friend's house. Prosecutors said on Wednesday that Couzens falsely arrested her under the guise of enforcing coronavirus lockdown restrictions, which were in place at the time. He then raped her, murdered her, and burned her body, which was discovered in a woodland outside the city a week after her disappearance.

Everard's killing sparked widespread protests across the U.K. against violence against women and, when a vigil in Everard's honor was roughly broken up by police, against heavy-handed policing.

British woman murdered walking home at night sparks debate on women's safety, sexual violence 03:02

"You have eroded the confidence that the public are entitled to have in the police forces of England and Wales," Justice Fulford said. "It is critical that every subject in this country can trust police officers when they encounter them and submit to their authority, which they are entitled to believe is exercised in good faith."

"We are very pleased that Wayne Couzens has received a full life sentence and will spend the rest of his life in jail," Everard's family said in a statement after the verdict was handed down. "Nothing can make things better, nothing can bring Sarah back, but knowing he will be imprisoned forever brings some relief."

In response to the sentencing, the Metropolitan Police announced it would no longer deploy plain-clothed police officers on their own, and that it would only send them out in pairs, unless there were exceptional circumstances.

National Chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales John Apter said in a statement that, "this predator [Couzens] is an absolute disgrace to the police service, and I am totally ashamed that he was ever a police officer. I am proud to carry a warrant card, but this vile individual's abuse of that authority has cast a shadow on all those who work within policing. He has brought disgrace to our uniform. The way he took advantage of Sarah's trust makes me feel sick to the stomach."

"We all feel betrayed that Couzens abused his position as a police officer to commit such abhorrent crimes," the Crown Prosecution Service said in a statement. "All of us should be free to walk our streets safely."

Member of Parliament Harriet Harman sent a letter to the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick, asking for her resignation.

"Women need to be confident that the police are there to make them safe, not to put them at risk. Women need to be able to trust the police, not fear them," she wrote.

"15 former and serving police officers have killed women since 2009. The last 5 years saw 800 allegations of domestic abuse against officers & 52% found guilty of sexual misconduct kept their jobs," another British lawmaker, Nadia Whittome, said in a tweet. "This isn't 'one bad apple'. We need justice, accountability and culture change."

Activist groups also called for widespread changes to policing, citing a culture of impunity for officers like Couzens, who had been accused of indecent exposure at least two times before killing Everard. The Independent Office for Police Conduct, a watchdog group, was investigating whether those allegations were handled correctly by police at the times they were made.

"Accountability doesn't end with Couzens' sentence," the organizers of the vigil for Sarah Everard that was broken up by police, Reclaim These Streets, said on Twitter. "His abhorrent act was enabled by a police culture which turns a blind eye to misogyny & let a serving officer abuse his power. We cannot let the Met police off the hook. We demand better."

The brutal killing of 28-year-old teacher Sabina Nessa two weeks ago in London reignited public outrage over femicides in the U.K. In response to criticism over the police and local authorities' response to that killing, Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Louisa Rolfe insisted the force was not urging women to change their own behavior to avoid assault. 

"It's really important to us that we don't ask women to change their behavior," she said. "Violence against women and girls is a priority for police across the U.K. but we're really conscious that women should be free to go about their lives without fear of abuse."

In response to Nessa's killing, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said that misogyny should be made a hate crime.

"Between last year's International Women's Day and this year's International Women's Day, 180 women were killed at the hands of men across the country," Khan said. "We do have an epidemic when it comes to violence against women and girls."

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