London’s police force appalled at officer’s arrest for suspected murder of Sarah Everard

Wayne Couzens helped to guard parliamentary and diplomatic buildings

ASHFORD, ENGLAND - MARCH 10: Police adjust their protective clothing beside police vans at a disused paintball centre on Bears Lane, near Great Chart Golf and Leisure during an investigation into the disappearance of a woman, Sarah Everard, last week in South London, on March 10, 2021 in Ashford, England. Overnight, a Metropolitan police officer was arrested in connection with the case. Ms Everard, 33, from Brixton, London, has been missing since leaving a friend's home in Clapham on Wednesday, March 3. She was last seen at about 21.30 GMT, wearing a green rain jacket, navy blue trousers with a white diamond pattern, turquoise and orange trainers, a white beanie hat and possibly wearing green earphones. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
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The head of Britain's biggest police force said she was "utterly appalled" at the arrest of a serving officer over the suspected murder of Sarah Everard.

Commissioner Cressida Dick, who heads London’s Metropolitan Police, said in a televised statement that the news of the arrest of an officer who worked patrolling diplomatic and government sites "sent waves of shock and anger" through the force and the public.

Campaigners said on Thursday Everard's suspected murder was a devastating reminder of the "national scandal" of violence against women in the UK.

The officer was named as Wayne Couzens after his arrest at his home in Deal, Kent, on England's south coast.

The burly 49-year-old is a former mechanic who later joined the police. He initially worked for the force that specialises in protecting the UK’s nuclear sites and received firearms training, according to reports.

He then joined the Metropolitan Police where he used his weapons’ expertise to work for the diplomatic protection group, which guards embassies and government buildings, such as parliament and the prime minister's residence at 10 Downing Street.

He was first arrested on suspicion of kidnapping, which was later upgraded to the suspected murder of Everard, 33, a marketing executive who vanished while walking home from a friend's home in south London on March 3.

Mr Couzens, a married father of two who was off duty at the time of Everard's disappearance, is in custody. British newspapers reported that the arrest followed evidence gleaned from a security camera on a passing bus on the route of Everard's walk home.

Police confirmed late on Wednesday that they had found what appeared to be human remains in woodland in Kent. Detectives have not yet confirmed the identity of the remains.

Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, said his thoughts were with Everard's friends and family after the discovery.

“We must work fast to find all the answers to this horrifying crime,” he wrote on Twitter.

Mr Couzens' mother-in-law expressed disbelief that he had been arrested for murder.

"He is a wonderful father," Nina Sukhoreba, who lives in Ukraine, told The Telegraph. "He came to visit with the children and we all walked to the river and he helped me at home and in the garden."

The arrest is a blow to the Metropolitan Police, which has focused on rebuilding its reputation as a force representing all Londoners since a finding of “institutional racism” by a public inquiry investigating its response to the racist murder of a black teenager in 1993.

Its officers were prominent in calling for the public's help in tackling the threat from terrorism after a series of attacks hit the capital in 2017, and Ms Dick, the Met's first woman commissioner, is seen as a steadying influence.

"I speak on behalf of all my colleagues in the Met when I say we are utterly appalled at this dreadful news," she said on Wednesday. "Our job is to patrol the streets and to protect people."

An undated handout picture released by the Metropolitan Police on March 10, 2021, shows missing Sarah Everard who went missing in south London on the might of March 3. A police officer in London's diplomatic protection force was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of murder following the disappearance of a 33-year-old woman while she was walking home, police said. The arrest follow a week-long investigation into the disappearance of Sarah Everard, who vanished while walking home from a friend's flat in south London on the evening of March 3. - 
Sarah Everard. AFP

"Sarah's disappearance in these awful and wicked circumstances is every family's worst nightmare. I know Londoners will want to know that it is thankfully incredibly rare for a woman to be abducted from our streets," Ms Dick said.

Jess Phillips, the Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley and shadow minister for domestic violence, said the tragedy was a “wake up call” about crimes perpetrated by men against women.

"The reality is it's not a rare crime. Since last week, since Sarah went missing, six women and a little girl have been reported as being killed at the hands of men," she told BBC's Radio 4 Today programme.

“The message this should be sending out is not one about what women should or shouldn’t do - it is about how serious violence against women and girls is, and how it is an epidemic that we have to put far, far more attention and resource into.”

According to the Femicide Census, which tracks violence against women, at least 1,425 women were killed by men in the UK between 2009 and 2018.

Ms Phillips suggested that the issue would be taken more seriously if the same number of men were killed each year by women.

“There would be a national scandal, but when it’s women’s lives they matter less,” she said.

Maya Tutton, the co-founder of anti-harassment group Our Streets Now, said the issue did not receive the attention it deserved.

“That’s why we set up the campaign because we were so angry, frustrated and at the end of our tether with violence against women and girls never being the priority, never being the issue we put money and resources and time and effort into tackling,” Ms Tutton said.

Feminist campaigner Julie Bindel, who was followed home by a man matching serial killer Peter Sutcliffe’s description in 1979, asked: “Why do we not have more campaigns led by men to end men’s violence?”

A vigil highlighting women's safety on the streets will be held in Clapham near where Everard was last seen.