The London Police Officer Who Killed Sarah Everard Should Never Have Been Employed, An Inquiry Finds

This is a family photo of Sarah Everard issued by the Crown Prosecution Service. The off-duty police officer who abducted and murdered a 33-year-old woman in south London three years ago should never have been employed in the first place with three police forces failing to spot clear signals of his unsuitability for numerous roles, according to an official report into the murder. Wayne Couzens was found to have had a history of viewing extreme and violent pornography and alleged sexual offending dating back nearly 20 years prior to the murder of Sarah Everard. (Crown Prosecution Service via AP)
This is a family photo of Sarah Everard issued by the Crown Prosecution Service. The off-duty police officer who abducted and murdered a 33-year-old woman in south London three years ago should never have been employed in the first place with three police forces failing to spot clear signals of his unsuitability for numerous roles, according to an official report into the murder. Wayne Couzens was found to have had a history of viewing extreme and violent pornography and alleged sexual offending dating back nearly 20 years prior to the murder of Sarah Everard. (Crown Prosecution Service via AP)

LONDON (AP) — An off-duty police officer who abducted and murdered a 33-year-old woman in south London three years ago should never have been employed in the first place, with three police forces failing to spot clear signals of his unsuitability, an official inquiry revealed Thursday.

According to the damning report, Wayne Couzens had a history of viewing extreme and violent pornography and alleged sexual offending dating back nearly two decades before the murder of Sarah Everard. Couzens, 51, often shared his interests with other officers on a WhatsApp group.

The inquiry's chair, Elish Angiolini, warned that there's “nothing to stop another Couzens operating in plain sight" unless there's a radical overhaul of policing practices and culture,

The murder in March 2021 shocked the country, angered many women and raised questions about how police harbored a murderer in their ranks. Couzens, who was a member of London's Metropolitan Police at the time, later pleaded guilty to Everard’s murder and was sentenced to life in prison.

The Met came under further criticism when a vigil involving hundreds of women that aimed to highlight the broader violence against women and girls was dispersed, at times violently, because it breached the coronavirus restrictions on mass gatherings in effect at the time.

Everard, who disappeared while walking home from visiting a friend in south London on March 2021, was found dead a week later in woodland about 60 miles (nearly 100 kilometers) south of London. Couzens had used his police identification to stop her on the pretext that she was violating COVID-19 lockdown rules.

Three different police forces — Kent Police, the Civil Nuclear Constabulary and the Metropolitan Police — “could and should” have stopped Couzens from getting a job as an officer, Angiolini said. She identified a catalogue of failings in his recruitment and vetting, and how allegations against him were investigated.

Police, she added, “repeatedly failed” to spot warning signs, including a series of indecent exposure incidents, about his “unsuitability" to be a police officer.

Everard’s family said in response that they believe she died because Couzens was a police officer, adding: “She would never have got into a stranger’s car.”

According to the report, the inquiry uncovered evidence that Couzens was accused of a string of other incidents of sexual abuse, including a “very serious sexual assault of a child barely into her teens." The findings identified at least five incidents that weren't reported to police, with Angiolini saying she believes there could be more victims.

“Wayne Couzens should never have been a police officer," she said, urging every police force in the country to read the report and take action.

Among the measures, Angiolini called for an urgent review of indecent exposure charges against serving officers, and said allegations of indecent exposure must be taken seriously.

“Warning signs were overlooked throughout his career and opportunities to confront him were missed," Everard's family said.

The United Kingdom's interior minister, James Cleverly, said that the government would “carefully consider” the report's recommendations and that the response will be prompt. London Mayor Sadiq Khan also vowed to ensure “lessons are learned.”

In September, London's Metropolitan Police said that more than 1,000 officers were currently suspended or on restricted duties while they were under investigation for corruption and other forms of misconduct, including sexual offenses, domestic abuse or racial harassment.

Following the publication of the report, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Mark Rowley said that progress is being made in rooting out corrupt officers, but that there's still a way to go.

“The majority of my Met colleagues share my determination to reform by both confronting the risk posed by predatory men in policing, and also, improving our protection of women and children across London,” he said.