By Michael Holden
LONDON (Reuters) -A British police officer on Friday admitted murdering Sarah Everard, whose killing sparked anger, protests and soul-searching across the country about what the authorities and society could do to stop male violence against women.
Wayne Couzens, 48, a serving London officer who guarded diplomatic premises, had previously admitted rape and kidnap.
He abducted Everard, 33, into a hire car as she walked home from a friend’s house in south London on March 3 and her body was later found in woodland around 50 miles (80 km) away in southeast England. A post-mortem last month concluded she had died as a result of compression of the neck.
Appearing by videolink from prison for a hearing at London’s Old Bailey Court, Couzens, bearded and wearing a blue sweatshirt, sat with his head bowed and said “guilty ma’am” when asked how he pleaded to the charge of murder.
Prosecutor Tom Little said the officer had never met Everard prior to kidnapping her from London’s South Circular road and they were “total strangers”.
Judge Adrian Fulford said Couzens had previously only given an entirely false account of events, an elaborate story involving an eastern European gang.
“This has been a mammoth investigation which has produced some very significant results in terms of being able to understand what happened,” Fulford said.
London Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick, Britain’s most senior officer, told reporters outside court she had personally apologised to Everard’s family.
“All of us in the Met are sickened, angered and devastated by this man’s crimes. They are dreadful,” she said.
Britain’s police watchdog said it was looking into police failures to investigate an indecent exposure incident linked to Couzens in 2015, and two further such allegations in February this year.
Everard’s murder provoked outpourings of anger from women who have recounted their own experiences and fears of walking the streets on their own at night, prompting Prime Minister Boris Johnson to promise action including money for better street lighting.
Couzens’ lawyer, James Sturman, said his client’s pleas represented “truly genuine guilt and remorse for what he did”.
“As he put it to us this morning he will bear this burden for the rest of his life, and he deserves to – his words ‘and I deserve to’. He accepts the victims in this case are the Everard family and friends, not him,” Sturman told the court.
A two-day sentencing hearing, which will consider psychiatric reports, will begin on Sept. 29.
(Reporting by Michael HoldenEditing by William James, Toby Chopra and Frances Kerry)