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British police officer charged with murder in missing woman’s kidnapping and killing

Metropolitan Police confirmed on March 12 that a body found in southeast English woodland belongs to Sarah Everard. (Video: UK POOL)

LONDON — A British police officer was charged late Friday in the kidnapping and killing of Sarah Everard, whose disappearance and death has sent shock waves through the nation.

Wayne Couzens, 48, who previously had posts at Downing Street and the Palace of Westminster, was charged with the kidnap and murder of Everard, a 33-year-old marketing executive. She was last seen at 9:30 p.m. on March 3, walking home from a friend's house in south London. Her disappearance sparked a national outcry in Britain over the harassment and abuse of women.

Police said that a woman in her 30s was arrested at the same time as Couzens on suspicion of assisting an offender, and that she has been released on bail to return to a police station on a date in mid-April. Police did not identify her.

The Metropolitan Police said that Couzens had joined the force in 2018 and that for the past year, his main job was patrolling diplomatic premises, mainly embassies.

Couzens was also accused of exposing himself in a restaurant in south London three days before Everard went missing.

Couzens was arrested Tuesday and later taken to a hospital after suffering a head injury while alone in his cell, police said. He was then returned to a police station and was held for further questioning before he was charged.

“I know that the public feel hurt and angry about what has happened, and those are sentiments that I share personally, and I know my colleagues here at Scotland Yard and across the Met share as well,” said Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Nick Ephgrave, speaking outside Scotland Yard on Friday. He confirmed that a body found in the woods near Ashford, a town about 60 miles southeast of London, was that of Everard.

He added: “I also recognize the wider concerns that have been raised, quite rightly, about the safety of women in public spaces in London and also elsewhere in the country.”

The case has struck a chord with women across the country, with many demanding change. In the days after Everard’s disappearance, women have taken to social media to share their own experiences and fears about their personal safety and walking alone.

Caitlin Moran, an author and journalist, tweeted: “Being a woman: my “outside” day finishes at sundown. If I haven’t taken the dog for a walk/jogged by then, I can't. In the winter, it often means the choice between exercise and work. Today, I had to stop work at 4 to exercise. My husband worked until 6, and is now off for a run.”

Writing in the Guardian, columnist Gaby Hinsliff said: “When she went missing, any woman who has ever walked home alone at night felt that grim, instinctive sense of recognition. Footsteps on a dark street. Keys gripped between your fingers.”

Many women have questioned why the onus should be on them, and suggested that men could appear less intimidating if they cross the road or back off if they are walking behind a woman late at night.

Nimco Ali, an adviser to the British government on violence against women and girls, told LBC Radio that men can change the way they act in public.

“I can’t sit there and try to assess which guy is the good guy and which one is not — it’s for you guys to change your behavior and the way you act in public spaces,” Ali said.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he was “shocked and deeply saddened” by the case.

Everard’s family, in a statement issued Thursday, described her as “bright and beautiful — a wonderful daughter and sister. She was kind and thoughtful, caring and dependable. She always put others first and had the most amazing sense of humor.”

Organizers of a planned, socially distanced vigil Saturday on London’s Clapham Common said they were still hopeful that it could go on, despite police urging people to stay home. England is still under a national lockdown.

Harriet Harman, a Labour lawmaker whose constituency includes Brixton, the area where Everard lived, tweeted: “Cmon @metpoliceuk now agree a way for this vigil to happen safely.

“Many women want to show their concern. Including women met police officers!”