This post has been contributed by Professor Jill Marshall, Module Convenor for Jurisprudence and legal theory. Please note content is upsetting.
At the Old Bailey London on 30 September 2021, Wayne Couzens, former Metropolitan Police officer, was sentenced to spend his whole life in prison for the murder of Sarah Everard. Lord Justice Fulford handed down this judgment for the “devastating, tragic and wholly brutal” murder of Sarah Everard.
Couzens showed his police warrant card to Sarah Everard, pulling up on the side of a road in Clapham, London on 3 March 2021 before restraining her with handcuffs, then taking her in his car 80 miles away to Dover where he raped and murdered her.
In the words of Lord Justice Fulford: Sarah Everard was “a wholly blameless victim of a grotesquely executed series of offences that culminated in her death and the disposal of her body. She was 33 years [old…] and she was simply walking home mid-evening having visited a friend during the COVID pandemic. She was an intelligent, resourceful, talented and much-loved young woman, still in the early years of her life. I have not the slightest doubt that the defendant used his position as a police officer to coerce her on a wholly false pretext into the car he had hired for this purpose. It is most likely that he suggested to Sarah Everard that she had breached the restrictions on movement that were being enforced during that stage of the pandemic.”
Having killed her during the night, CCTV shows at 8.14 am he bought a hot chocolate and Bakewell tart in Dover. He took Sarah Everard’s mobile telephone from her and removed the Sim card. He later disposed of the handset, driving some distance on 4 March to throw it in the river before immediately returning home, arriving at a time which would coincide with him having been on a normal night shift. He is married with two children and acted as normal on his return home, including booking dental appointments for his children. During the morning of 5 March, the defendant purchased petrol in a plastic container and burnt Sarah Everard’s body, along with her possessions and clothing, which had been placed in an abandoned refrigerator in Kent. At about the same time, he again purchased food and drink for himself, and calmly organised an appointment by telephone at a local veterinary practice for the family dog. Later during 5 March, he moved Sarah Everard’s body to a pond in a nearby wood, where she was eventually discovered, having used two bags purchased from B & Q in order to transport her remains. On Saturday 6 March, the defendant invented an excuse to remain away from work. Within 3 days of the murder the defendant took his family on a trip to the woods, close to where he had deposited, burnt, moved and hid the body of Sarah Everard, allowing his children to play in that area. In due course he cleaned the exterior of his motorcar.
“Men who hate women” is the literal translation of the Swedish crime novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson about Lisbeth Salander, a rape survivor. Many are arguing that Sarah Everard’s murder was one bad apple, in the Metropolitan police, and in society in general. The Femicide Census notes that 16 women have been killed by serving police officers. Police officers were accused of being heavyhanded during a vigil held to remember Sarah Everard and protest against men’s violence against women. This took place the weekend after her body was found, but the police banned the gathering citing coronavirus restrictions. Hundreds gathered in defiance of the order, and images of officers pinning women to the ground at the vigil in Clapham Common on Saturday 13 March provoked rebukes from politicians including the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. There are reports that police officers, including Couzens, were part of a WhatsApp group exchanging misogynistic images and discussions: now the subject of a separate investigation.
Feminist legal analysis seeks to highlight gendered attitudes that discriminate and devalue girls and women globally and how these are reflected in, and bolstered by, legal systems. There are a variety of feminist legal perspectives and emphases. In some, patriarchy is explained as ingrained in societies structurally so that girls and women are judged by different standards in ways that make our lives difficult and even dangerous, demonstrated through experiences of fearing to be able to walk in the street, holding keys in hand, checking behind us to see who is walking there and how close; being aware how slowly cars may be sideling up beside us. Daily routines of hearing cat-calling and wolf-whistling and other street harassment, feeling the need to walk with others, telling people where we are going and saying we will phone or text when we get home are some examples. Underlying these are threats of further abuse, physical including sexual, and murder. Author Margaret Atwood has stated “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”
RIP Sarah Everard.
Read the University of London Jurisprudence Module Guide chapter 12