A Metropolitan Police officer could spend the rest of his life behind bars for the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard.
Pc Wayne Couzens, 48, snatched Ms Everard as she walked home alone from a friend’s house in Clapham, south London, on the evening of March 3.
The sexual predator, who had clocked off from a 12-hour shift that morning, went on to rape and strangle the 33-year-old marketing executive.
Couzens, a firearms-trained parliamentary and diplomatic protection officer, wiped his phone just minutes before he was arrested at his home in Deal, Kent, on March 9.
The following day, a week after she disappeared, Ms Everard’s body was found in a woodland stream in Ashford, Kent, just metres from land owned by Couzens.
The killing has sparked protests at the rate of violence against women.
On Friday, Couzens pleaded guilty to Ms Everard’s murder, having previously admitted her kidnap and rape.
Five members of Ms Everard’s family were joined by Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick in court to watch as Couzens, head bowed and shaking, entered his whispered plea by video link from Belmarsh prison.
During the 20-minute hearing Lord Justice Fulford discussed the possibility of a whole-life order as he adjourned sentencing until September 29.
Dame Cressida spoke to the family before making a statement on the steps of the Old Bailey.
She said that she had told the Everard family “how very sorry I am for their loss, for their pain and their suffering”.
She said: “All of us in the Met are sickened, angered and devastated by this man’s crimes – they are dreadful.
“Everyone in policing feels betrayed.”
The police watchdog has received a string of referrals relating to the Couzens case, with 12 police officers being investigated.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) is investigating whether the Met failed to investigate two allegations of indecent exposure relating to Couzens in February, just days before the killing.
Kent Police are also being investigated over their response to a third allegation of indecent exposure in 2015.
Scotland Yard had launched an urgent inquiry after Ms Everard was reported missing by her boyfriend, Josh Lowth, on March 4.
Couzens, who joined the Met in 2018, had booked the hire of a Vauxhall Astra and bought a roll of self-adhesive film, days before the murder.
At about 9pm on March 3, Ms Everard set off on foot for the two-and-a-half mile journey home, chatting with her boyfriend by mobile phone on the way.
A camera attached to a passing marked police car captured her walking alone at 9.32pm.
Just three minutes later, a bus camera appeared to capture the moment she was intercepted by Couzens in Balham, south London.
Two figures could be seen standing by the hire car, which was parked on the pavement with its hazard lights flashing.
After abducting Ms Everard, Couzens drove out of London, arriving in the area of Tilmanstone, near Deal, at 1am.
Investigators tracked the route of the car using CCTV and ANPR cameras, and identified the driver as a serving officer through the car hire firm.
Couzens had used his personal details and bank card to make the booking, picking up the Vauxhall Astra on the afternoon of the abduction and returning it the next morning.
The court heard investigators are still analysing scientific evidence relating to Couzens’ own car, into which he transferred Ms Everard from the hire car he used to kidnap her.
Prosecutor Tom Little QC said: “That may seek to establish where it was that Sarah Everard was raped and where she was murdered.”
In the days that followed, Couzens reported that he was suffering from stress and did not want to carry a firearm any more, according to a case summary.
On March 8, the day he was due back on duty, he called in sick.
The next day, police arrested Couzens at 7.50pm – 39 minutes after he wiped the data from his mobile phone.
In a police interview, Couzens concocted an elaborate story and claimed to be having financial problems.
He said he had got into trouble with a gang of Eastern Europeans who threatened him and his family. A gang demanded he deliver “another girl” after underpaying a prostitute a few weeks before, he said.
He kidnapped Ms Everard, drove out of London and handed her over to three Eastern European men in a van in a layby in Kent, still alive and uninjured, Couzens claimed.
Meanwhile, police found out that Couzens and his wife had bought a small patch of woodland in 2019, in Ashford.
Phone data led officers to the site and at 4.45pm a body was found some 100 metres outside the property boundary.
The remains, dumped in a stream inside a large green builders’ bag, were identified as Ms Everard’s by dental records.
Further inquiries revealed that on the same day that Couzens booked the hire car, he bought a roll of self-adhesive film on Amazon.
Two days after Ms Everard was last seen, Couzens was caught on CCTV buying two green rubble bags at B&Q in Dover.
He went on to order tarpaulin and a bungee cargo net for delivery on March 7.
Even though Couzens’ phone had been wiped, cell site data linked him to the abduction and the area where Ms Everard was eventually found.
Not only was his device located there in the early hours of March 4, but also in the days leading up to his arrest.
The defendant made no comment in formal interview and was charged on March 12.
Couzens’ barrister, Jim Sturman QC, told the court: “His pleas today represent a truly guilty plea and remorse for what he did and, as he put it to us this morning, he will bear the burden for the rest of his life – his words, ‘as I deserve’.”
Mr Little stressed that before the defendant kidnapped Ms Everard, they were “total strangers to each other”.