Wayne Couzens, the police officer who kidnapped, raped and murdered Sarah Everard in March, has been given a whole life sentence, meaning he will likely die behind bars.

Couzens used his police warrant card and handcuffs to persuade Everard to get into his vehicle in Clapham, south London, claiming he was imposing coronavirus lockdown measures, the court heard yesterday.

He then drove her to woodlands in Kent where he raped her and strangled her to death, the prosecutor said, before burning her body days later. Her remains were found a week later, triggering vigils and calls for change up and down the country.

Prosecutor Tom Little QC had argued he should be handed a whole life order due to the severity of his crimes.

And today, Lord Justice Fulford agreed with that, describing the circumstances of the murder as “grotesque”. He said the seriousness of the case was so “exceptionally high” that it warranted a whole life order.

“The misuse of a police officer’s role such as occurred in this case in order to kidnap, rape and murder a lone victim is of equal seriousness as a murder for the purpose of advancing a political, religious ideological cause,” he said.

He also paid tribute to the dignity of Ms Everard’s family, whose statements in court revealed the human impact of Couzen’s “warped, selfish and brutal offending which was both sexual and homicidal”.

Here’s a bit more information about what the whole life order means:

What are whole life orders?

Whole life orders are the strictest punishment available in the UK. They mean a prisoner is never considered for release, unless there are exceptional compassionate grounds to warrant it.

Those who are handed the sentence are expected to die behind bars.

What factors determine whether a criminal serves a whole life order?

In the past, home secretaries could issue whole life tariffs and these are now determined by judges.

Under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, the Government is trying to expand the use of whole life orders for premeditated murder of a child.

The reforms would also allow judges to hand out the maximum sentence to 18 to 20-year-olds in exceptional cases, such as for acts of terrorism leading to mass loss of life.

It will also give judges the discretion, in exceptional circumstances, to impose a whole life order on offenders aged 18 or over but under 21.

What criminals are serving whole life orders?

There are 60 criminals serving whole life orders, according to Government figures to the end of June.

Milly Dowler’s killer Levi Bellfield is thought to be the only criminal in UK legal history to be serving two whole life orders for her murder as well as the killings of Marsha McDonnell and Amelie Delagrange and the attempted murder of Kate Sheedy between 2002 and 2003.

Other notorious criminals serving whole life orders include serial killer Rose West, Michael Adebolajo, one of Fusilier Lee Rigby’s killers; Mark Bridger, who murdered five-year-old April Jones in Wales; neo-Nazi Thomas Mair who killed MP Jo Cox; Grindr serial killer Stephen Port and the Reading terror attacker Khairi Saadallah, who murdered three men in a park in 2020.

Moors murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe, and doctor Harold Shipman were also among those serving whole life orders before they died.

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