Wayne Couzens sentenced: 16 UK police officers have killed women in past 13 years

Campaigners say a 'locker-room culture' persists in many police forces

Wayne Couzens has been sentenced to life in prison for the abduction, rape and murder of Sarah Everard.

The 48-year-old is one of at least 16 police officers in Britain to have killed women in the past 13 years, a report says.

Lord Justice Fulford said the defendant, who was a serving Metropolitan Police officer in London at the time of the crime, went out “hunting a lone female to kidnap and rape".

Sentencing him to the maximum penalty at the Old Bailey in London on Thursday, the judge said Couzens had planned his attack in “unspeakably” grim detail.

He called the circumstances of the case “devastating, tragic and wholly brutal” and said that the evidence gathered against Couzens was “unanswerable” and there was “no credible innocent explanation” for his actions.

Campaigners are calling on political leaders to do more to prevent male-on-female violence and part of that has been multiple murders carried out by a member of the UK's police forces.

The Femicide Census, which tracks the deaths of females killed by male perpetrators in the UK, said the problem of abuse of women by policemen "goes way deeper” than the fatalities recorded in recent years.

The group's report says 16 women have been killed by former or serving officers in the past 13 years.

Thirteen victims were killed by a current or former boyfriend or husband, one by her son while another – Everard – died at the hands of a stranger. Another was killed by an acquaintance.

Ms Everard's killing sparked a debate about the issue of violence perpetrated by male police officers against women.

In July, Couzens pleaded guilty to the abduction, rape and murder of the 33-year-old marketing executive.

At his two-day sentencing hearing, the court was told that Couzens handcuffed his victim before snatching her from a south London street as she walked home after 9pm on March 3.

He drove her to Kent where she was raped and murdered. Her body was later found in a woodland.

Couzens' arrest in March was a damaging blow for London’s Metropolitan Police and Dame Cressida Dick, the commissioner, described his actions as “shocking and wicked” and called him a “bad ‘un”.

Harriet Harman, Britain's current longest-serving female MP, on Thursday called for the commissioner to quit, saying she could not lead reforms that would restore women's faith in the police. "It is clear that there had been all too many warning signs about him [Couzens] which had been swept under the carpet," Ms Harman said. "It cannot be rebuilt with the attempt to reassure that this was just, as the Metropolitan Police Commissioner said, one 'bad'un'.

"Women's confidence in the police can only be rebuilt with substantive and immediate change."

The Femicide Census gave a warning that “serious crimes against women and children committed by serving police officers do not stop at femicide” and went on to list a string of crimes including domestic violence and voyeurism.

Killed by the hands of an officer

The latest killing, before Everard’s, was that of Claire Parry, 41, who was strangled by Timothy Brehmer, a constable with Dorset Police, in May 2020.

Mrs Parry, who was married to another police officer, had been having an affair with PC Brehmer and had told his wife about the infidelity.

After being cleared of murder, he was sentenced to 10 years and six months in jail for the manslaughter of his former long-term lover.

In July 2019 a Colombian former policeman was jailed for life for strangling his wife and shoving her body into a suitcase before setting it on fire.

Alberto Rodrigo Giraldo-Tascon was sentenced to at least 19 years in prison for killing his spouse at the family home in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, n January of that year.

And in April 2018 Darren McKie was jailed for life after strangling his wife Leanne, 39, also a police officer, at their home in Wilmslow, in Cheshire.

Mr McKie was a police inspector working for Greater Manchester Police when he carried out the brutal killing in September 2017. He will serve a minimum of 19 years behind bars.

Recent data from the Office for National Statistics showed the number of people claiming they never see a police officer on foot patrol has doubled since 2010.

And Home Office figures show the number of special constables - volunteer officers who support police on the frontline – has dropped by 6,300 in the same timeframe.

The Centre for Women’s Justice said about 150 women have contacted the charity since 2019 to say they have been victims of abuse or violence at the hands of a police officer husband or boyfriend.

The charity, which offers legal advice to female victims, last year submitted a “police super-complaint” over what it saw as the failure of multiple forces to address police-perpetrated domestic abuse.

Nogah Ofer, a solicitor at the CWJ and author of the report, told The National the charity was inundated with victim reports after the death of Everard.

“Because of the death of Sarah Everard being in the press, many people felt emboldened to come forward after hearing about it,” she said.

The legal expert said there was “increasing awareness that police officers can be abusive” and many women who had been abused by police husbands or boyfriends in the distant past now felt more confident to report such problems.

The charity is calling for police forces across the UK to introduce a bespoke complaints system for women reporting domestic violence allegedly carried out by a police officer.

They want a neighbouring force to investigate the case, not the team with which the accused works.

The charity also wants any policeman who has a domestic abuse report filed against him to be prevented from working with vulnerable abuse victims in the line of duty, regardless of the outcome of the case.

Ms Ofer said the CWJ hears from countless domestic abuse survivors who field complaints against police partners only for their concerns to be dismissed.

“They just feel incredibly let down, isolated and powerless and feel that they have got nowhere to turn to,” she said. “Everything is stacked against them.

“Domestic abuse victims often feel powerless – a lot of that is to do with emotional and physical control and behaviour.”

She said social workers who deal with victims of domestic abuse and help them file complaints to police also report negative responses from officers.

“Some of the time they feel like police officers are trivialising domestic abuse and treating it like it’s not a real crime,” she said.

Ms Ofer described a “locker-room culture” in some police forces and said there was a wider problem of “institutionalised sexism” in the policing sector.

Priti Paterl, the UK's Home Secretary, said "serious questions” need to be answered by the Metropolitan Police, as she backed Dame Cressida Dick in the wake of Sarah Everard’s murder.

Earlier this month Dame Cressida's contract was extended by two years, which means she will continue to lead the Met until 2024.

Speaking at the Home Office, Priti Patel said: “There are questions, serious questions that need to be answered by the Metropolitan Police … from the very day that Sarah went missing, I have been, clearly, in contact with the Metropolitan Police and putting forward some questions around the conduct of the potential suspect at the time and all the requirements and checks that should have been put in place.”

When asked if Dame Cressida should resign, she said: “I will continue to work with the Metropolitan Police and the commissioner to hold them to account as everybody would expect me to do, and I will continue to do that.”

Describing Couzens as a “monster” and the case as “sickening” and an “appalling tragedy”, Ms Patel said: “It is right that he has been given a whole-life tariff and with that he can never walk the streets of our country again.”

Dame Cressida said Couzens had brought “shame” on the Metropolitan Police and branded him a “coward”.

“His actions were a gross betrayal of everything policing stands for.”

Updated: September 30th 2021, 5:13 PM
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