LONDON -- A serving London police officer was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole Thursday for the kidnapping, rape and murder of a woman he tricked into his car using his police identification and COVID-19 laws.
Wayne Couzens, 48, was accused of falsely arresting 33-year-old Sarah Everard for violating lockdown restrictions as she walked home from visiting a friend in south London on March 3. Prosecutors said he handcuffed Everard, drove her far outside the city, and then raped and killed her.
Couzens had pleaded guilty to the charges.
In handing down the sentence, Justice Adrian Fulford said Couzens misused his role as police officer and the circumstances of the case were "devastating, tragic and wholly brutal." Couzens went "hunting a lone female to kidnap and rape," having planned the crime in "unspeakably" grim detail, the judge said.
"You have eroded the confidence that the public are entitled to have in the police forces of England and Wales," he said.
The seriousness of the case was so "exceptionally high" that it warranted a whole life sentence, Fulford added. The sentence means that Couzens will die in prison with no chance of parole.
The body of Everard, a marketing executive, was found in woodland in Ashford, Kent, about 60 miles (nearly 100 kilometers) southeast of London, a week after she went missing. Prosecutors said Couzens strangled her with his police belt before setting fire to the body.
Couzens was arrested at his home in Deal in southeastern England after police connected him to a rental car he used to abduct Everard.
Couzens joined the Metropolitan Police in 2018 and had worked as part of a team protecting diplomatic locations in central London. He had worked an overnight shift at the U.S. Embassy on the day he kidnapped Everard.
Everhard's slaying and the officer's arrest shocked the nation and raised questions about trust in police. London's Metropolitan Police department has said it was "sickened, angered and devastated" by how one of its own was responsible for the crime.
In the aftermath of Everard's killing, many questioned how police vet their officers, while others criticized Scotland Yard for not doing enough to protect women and girls and tackle allegations of sexual violence.
After Couzens' arrest, it emerged that he had been accused of indecent exposure at least twice before he murdered Everard, and police is being investigated over whether the allegations were dealt with properly.
The case touched a nerve with women particularly because Everard was abducted while walking home along well-lit areas of Clapham and Brixton -- urban, busy areas of the capital frequented by scores of women and girls every day.
"No woman should have to fear harassment or violence. We will do everything possible to prevent these abhorrent crimes and keep our communities safe," Prime Minister Boris Johnson said after Thursday's sentencing.
Labour Party lawmaker Harriet Harman renewed calls for Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police's first female chief, to step down to allow for the implementation of urgent reforms, including the immediate suspension of officers accused of violence against women.
"Women need to be confident that the police are there to make them safe, not to put them at risk," Harman wrote in a letter to Dick. "Women need to be able to trust the police, not to fear them."
Also on Thursday, the suspect in a similar, more recent murder case appeared in court accused of the "premeditated and predatory" killing of a 28-year-old school teacher in southeast London.
Koci Selamaj, 36, is accused of attacking Sabina Nessa as she walked to meet a friend on Sept. 17. Her body was found a day later in a local park.
The video in the media player above was used in a previous report.
London police officer who tricked woman with false arrest before rape, murder gets life in prison
Sarah Everhard's kidnapping, rape and murder shocked the U.K. and raised questions about trust in police.
U.S. & WORLD