UK police officer murdered woman after false coronavirus arrest: court
London (AFP) –
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A serving British police officer kidnapped a woman as she walked home, handcuffing her in a false arrest for breaking coronavirus restrictions, before raping and murdering her, a court was told on Wednesday.
The disappearance of Sarah Everard during a national lockdown in March was one of Britain's most high-profile missing person investigations and sparked protests and a debate about women's safety on the streets.
Wayne Couzens, 48, who served with the elite diplomatic protection unit of London's Metropolitan Police, admitted her kidnapping, rape and murder in July.
Everard, who had been visiting a friend in Clapham, south London, was strangled then set on fire, with her remains found in woodland.
At a two-day sentencing hearing, prosecutor Tom Little said Couzens targeted the 33-year-old marketing executive on March 3, and accused her of breaking coronavirus rules.
Couzens, who was off-duty, kidnapped Everard in a "false arrest", by "handcuffing her and showing his warrant card", he added.
Security camera footage showed him holding up his warrant card and then handcuffing Everard before putting her into a hire car.
A couple driving past in a car also witnessed this, and assumed an undercover police officer was making an arrest, the lawyer added.
But he said Couzens exploited his knowledge and experience of police patrols enforcing lockdown restrictions and knew what language to use.
A former boyfriend had given evidence that Everard was "savvy and streetwise" and would not have got into a car with a stranger except "by force or manipulation", he added.
Couzens sat in the dock at London's Old Bailey with his head bowed, watched by members of Everard's family, as the judge considered whether to hand him a whole-life jail term.
The sentence was due to be announced on Thursday.
Before the hearing, the Metropolitan Police said in a statement: "We are sickened, angered and devastated by this man's crimes, which betray everything we stand for."
The force has sacked the officer and said his actions "raise many questions and concerns" but it would not comment further until after the sentencing.
Demonstrators outside the court held banners with slogans criticising the police such as "Met Police Blood On Your Hands" and let off smoke flares.
The government has pledged to improve legislation after Everard's murder sparked widespread anger at women's lack of safety in public spaces.
In July, the interior ministry said it would increase the currently low numbers of perpetrators brought to justice for offences including rape, domestic abuse, stalking and sexual harassment and work with police to "more effectively respond to street harassment".
Yet in another high profile case, primary school teacher Sabina Nessa was murdered earlier this month as she walked through a London park to meet a friend.
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