Police investigate whether Wayne Couzens committed other crimes

One alleged offence happened 72 hours before he murdered Sarah Everard

Police are investigating whether Sarah Everard's killer, Wayne Couzens, could be responsible for more crimes, as forces across the UK try to reassure women they can have confidence in officers.

The 48-year-old was sentenced to life for the abduction, rape and murder of Everard, a 33-year-old marketing executive who was snatched from a south London street on March 3 as she walked home.

Police have appealed for anyone who may have been a victim of other attacks to come forward.

Couzens was a serving firearms officer with London's Metropolitan Police at the time and had finished a 12-hour shift at the American embassy that morning.

After he was handed the maximum prison penalty on Thursday, it emerged the married father-of-two had been linked to multiple allegations of indecent exposure, including one that allegedly happened just 72 hours before he kidnapped Everard.

While he was not named as a suspect in the south London incident, a DVLA check on a car associated with it would have revealed him as the registered owner.

Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Nick Ephgrave said the investigation into the indecent exposure had been “continuing” at the time when Couzens killed Everard.

He said the Met had been referred to the police watchdog and a file sent to the Crown Prosecution Service in relation to the alleged crime.

Mr Malthouse confirmed an investigation is under way into why allegations against Couzens earlier in his career did not affect his employment by the Metropolitan Police.

“One of the lessons that we will need to learn is the allegations that were made against him – where those investigations led to, why they did not pop up on his vetting or have any impact in his employment with the Metropolitan Police,” Mr Malthouse told BBC Breakfast. “That is currently under investigation.”

Mr Malthouse said the Met had been unaware of claims Couzens had been known as “The Rapist” by some colleagues.

“As I understand it, the Met say they didn’t know about that,” he said. “That is something that will need to be investigated and understood as part of our learning lessons around this awful incident.”

It comes as five serving police officers are under criminal investigation for allegedly sharing misogynistic, racist and homophobic material with their colleague Couzens on a WhatsApp group before he killed Everard, according to The Times.

The Met has promised to “step up” patrols and provide an increased police presence in areas identified as “hotspot” locations for violence and harassment.

The force has said it will deploy 650 new officers to busy public places across the city “including those where women and girls often lack confidence that they are safe”.

In light of the Everard case, the force said plain clothes officers will not be deployed on their own but will be “in pairs”.

Sir Stephen House, Deputy Commissioner of the Met, told the London Assembly’s police and crime committee on Thursday there will be occasions where that is not possible given that off-duty officers not in uniform “put themselves on duty” when they come across an incident.

Mr Malthouse told Sky News it would be “perfectly reasonable” for a person approached by a lone plain clothes policeman to dial 999 to “seek reassurance” about the officer’s authenticity.

“I’m afraid that’s where we’ve got to,” he added.

Ephgrave admitted a check when Couzens transferred to the force in 2018 was not carried out “correctly” and did not flag up that a vehicle associated with him had been identified in a Kent Police probe into an indecent exposure allegation in 2015.

The senior Met officer was quizzed on whether the two incidents provided enough information to identify Couzens as a threat to women before he killed Everard.

“We ask anyone in the service or any member of the public that might have any information about Couzens’ behaviour – either as an officer or member of the public – that might be relevant, please come forward,” he said.

Asked whether Couzens was a “bad apple” in the police or an extreme example of a wider problem, Mr Ephgrave said: “I’m wrestling with that myself”.

On the impact of Couzens’ crimes, he said: “It’s undoubtedly one of the darkest days the Metropolitan Police Service has had in its nearly 200 years of existence and we all feel that keenly.

“I of course acknowledge the impact this has on the trust and confidence of Londoners and the confidence they have in the Metropolitan Police and its staff.”

Detective Chief Inspector Katherine Goodwin, who led the murder investigation, said she was unaware of any allegations against Couzens of such a serious nature.

But she said: “As you would expect, we have a number of inquiries continuing to establish whether Wayne Couzens is responsible for any other offences.

“Thus far, there is nothing of the nature or seriousness of the offences for which he has been put in prison today.

“I would like to reiterate Mr Ephgrave’s appeal – if anyone has any information or any allegations about Wayne Couzens that they would come and speak to our team.”

She added that she would never forget witnessing the recovery of Everard’s body, after it had been identified by police dogs in a Kent pond days after her disappearance.

She said: “Officers took off hats as a mark of respect.

“After the terrible way he had treated her, we wanted to show her the utmost respect and care.”

Sentencing Couzens at the Old Bailey Court in London, Lord Justice Fulford said the defendant went out “hunting a lone female to kidnap and rape" and said he had planned his attack in “unspeakably” grim detail.

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

The court was told Couzens handcuffed his victim before snatching her from a south London street and driving 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 the Metropolitan Police and Dame Cressida Dick, the commissioner, described his actions as “shocking and wicked” and called him a “bad ‘un”.

The sentencing of Couzens set off a fresh wave of calls for her to step down, including from Harriet Harman, the longest serving female MP in the House of Commons and chairman of the parliamentary human rights committee.

Minister for Crime and Policing Kit Malthouse said the killing of Everard by a serving officer was a “dreadful blow” to police across the country - but insisted Dame Cressida should remain in her top post.

“In my experience, having worked with Cressida in a number of positions over a number of years, she is a dedicated and talented and committed police officer who is driving the Metropolitan Police to ever greater standards of care and improvement and fighting crime and she is committed to whatever the changes come out of the lessons learned in this horrible episode. And that’s what I want in a police leader,” he told Sky News.

He said forces across the country are aware the murder “struck a devastating blow to the confidence that people have in police officers”

“The fact that this man was a serving police officer when he committed the crime is just horrifying really and has made all of us think hard about A, how it happened in the first place and B, how we can prevent it in the future,” he said.

Mr Malthouse called Couzens an “awful monster” and said he had inflicted a “terrible catastrophe” on the Everard family.

The government minister said police up and down the country will have to “work much harder to win the public trust” following the harrowing case that caused widespread outrage.

Speaking outside the Old Bailey on Thursday, Dame Cressida said she felt "horrified" that Couzens "used his position of trust to deceive and coerce Sarah" and said his actions were a "gross betrayal of everything policing stands for.”

“He showed himself to be the coward he is through his lies and seeking to minimise his true responsibility for his crimes," she added.

“Police officers are here to protect people. To be courageous and compassionate. His actions were the exact opposite of that.

“As Commissioner, I will do everything in my power to ensure we learn any lessons.

“I know that what happened to Sarah, and what has happened to other women in London and beyond in recent times, has raised important questions about women’s safety.

“Here in the Met I commit to keep working with others to improve women’s safety and reduce the fear of violence.

“There are no words that can express the fury and overwhelming sadness that we all feel about what happened to Sarah. I am so sorry.”

Everard’s family said they were “very pleased” that Couzens would “spend the rest of his life in jail”.

The family, who delivered powerful victim impact statements on Wednesday, cried and hugged as her killer was told he would die behind bars.

In a statement released following the sentencing, they said the knowledge he would be behind bars until his death brought "some relief”.

But “nothing can make things better, nothing can bring Sarah back”, they said.

“It is almost seven months since Sarah died and the pain of losing her is overwhelming. We miss her all the time.

"She was a beautiful young woman in looks and character and our lives are the poorer without her.

"We remember all the lovely things about Sarah – her compassion and kindness, her intelligence, her strong social conscience. But we especially like to remember her laughing and dancing and enjoying life. We hold her safe in our hearts."

Updated: October 1st 2021, 11:52 AM