Sarah Everard Case: The South London Murder That Launched a National Reckoning Over Women's Safety

Sarah Everard vigil
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Sarah Everard disappeared March 3 on the way home from a friend's house in London. Her remains were found a week later, and a Metropolitan police officer was charged with her murder.

Last week, a London woman who disappeared on the way home from a friend’s house was found dead, and a Metropolitan police officer was charged with her kidnapping and murder. Sarah Everard’s death struck a chord with thousands of British women who say the case underscores the threat of violence they face everyday.

Here’s what to know about the case.

Sarah Everard Disappears

On March 3 around 9 p.m., Everard, a 33-year-old marketing executive, disappeared while walking home from a friend’s apartment in south London, the Associated Press reported. Police confirmed that she made a 15-minute call to her boyfriend, who she arranged to meet the following day, according to the Evening Standard.

She was captured on surveillance camera around 30 minutes after leaving the friend’s home and again several minutes later on the dash cam of a passing police car, Yahoo News reported. Around the same time, a bus camera also captured two figures and a white Vauxhall Astra with its hazard lights flashing on the road where Everard was last seen.

Everard was reported missing by her boyfriend on March 4 when she didn’t show up to their meeting.

Police Officer Arrested in Sarah Everard's Kidnapping

On March 9, Metropolitan police officer Wayne Couzens was arrested at his home in Kent on suspicion of kidnapping Everard. A woman in her thirties was also arrested on suspicion of aiding an offender. She was later released on bail, the Guardian reported.

According to the BBC, Couzens joined the force in 2018 and patrolled various diplomatic premises, including Downing Street, Westminster Palace and foreign embassies in London. He was also a trained firearms officer.

Commissioner Cressida Dick said in a televised statement that news of the officer’s arrest “sent waves and shock and anger through the public” and the entire force.

“I speak on behalf of all my colleagues in the Met when I say we are utterly appalled at this dreadful news,” Dick said.

Remains Discovered During the Search for Sarah Everard

A day after Couzens’ initial arrest, human remains were discovered in a wooded area in Kent, according to The New York Times. Couzens, 48, was then re-arrested on suspicion of murdering Everard.

On March 12, Everard’s body was identified through dental records, and Couzens was charged with her kidnapping and murder, the Times reported. A plea hearing is set for July, according to BBC News.

In a statement, Everard’s family remembered her as “bright and beautiful” and “a wonderful daughter and sister.”

“She always put others first and had the most amazing sense of humor. She was strong and principled and a shining example to us all,” the statement continued.

Sarah Everard's Disappearance and Death Begins a Movement

Within days, Everard’s disappearance and death sparked a national reckoning over women’s safety.

“Her name was Sarah Everard. She was just walking home. She did everything we're supposed to do to stay safe; covered her body, stuck to main streets, called her partner. She was just walking home,” one woman wrote on Twitter.

“Like so many women on here, I‘m thinking about Sarah Everard, her family and friends. That could have been any of us. There’s so much emphasis on teaching girls how ‘to be safe’ as though that will protect us, when really we need a different conversation: how to end male violence,” Sunday Times journalist Rosamund Urwin wrote on Twitter.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said that London’s streets are not safe for women and girls, the Independent reported, citing his comments on a local talk radio station.

“If you’re a woman or a girl, your experiences of our city, in any public space, whether it’s in the workplace, on the streets, on public transport is very different to if you are a man or a boy. And it’s really important that people like me in positions of power and influence understand that and take steps to address that,” Khan said.

Home Secretary Priti Patel released a statement saying that "every woman should feel safe to walk on our streets without fear of harassment or violence" and announced that new laws were being considered to protect women against sexual harassment in public.

Arrests Made During Vigil for Sarah Everard

Although a March 13 vigil organized by Reclaim These Streets was canceled after talks with police reportedly broke down, hundreds gathered throughout the day at Everard’s memorial on Clapham Common to pay their respects, BBC News reported.

"I recognise that the decision by the organisers to cancel the Reclaim These Streets vigil in Clapham Common was deeply unwelcome news,” Assistant Commissioner Helen Ball said in a statement. “Even so, given the ever present threat of Coronavirus, this was the right decision to make.”

What began as a peaceful event ended in arrests of several women for breaching COVID-19 regulations. Footage of officers breaking up the vigil prompted widespread outcry and reaction from Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Reuters reported.

“Like everyone who saw it, I was deeply concerned about the footage from Clapham Common on Saturday night,” Johnson said.

“The death of Sarah Everard must unite us in determination to drive out violence against women and girls and make every part of the criminal justice system work to protect and defend them,” Johnson continued.

At a press conference Sunday, Met Commissioner Cressida Dick said that she won’t resign and defended the force’s actions.

“I understand why so many people wanted to come and pay their respect and make a statement about this. Indeed, if it had been lawful, I’d have been there,” Dick said.

Dick said that although the vigil was lawful at first, later on, the crowd increased and several people began making speeches.

"Quite rightly, as far as I can see, my team felt that this is now an unlawful gathering, which poses a considerable risk to people's health according to regulations," Dick said.

She also welcomed a review of the incident.

“This is fiendishly difficult policing, but I'm sure for the people who wanted to express their feelings, that was a difficult situation for them and that's why it needs a cold light of day, sober, review, and I think we're all agreed on that.”

Other vigils and protests have been held throughout the United Kingdom.