London police officer pleads guilty to kidnap, rape in Sarah Everard case

LONDON - A British police officer has pleaded guilty to the kidnapping and rape of 33-year-old Sarah Everard, who went missing while walking home from a friend's house in London on the night of March 3. One week after she vanished, her body was found in a bag in woodland in the county of Kent.

Officer Wayne Couzens, who joined the Metropolitan Police force in 2018, was charged with Everard's kidnap and murder. On Tuesday he admitted to kidnapping Everard "unlawfully and by force or fraud" and raping the marketing executive. He did not enter a plea for her murder, but those gathered in court heard that he had accepted responsibility for her death.

The next hearing in the case will take place on July 9.

Everard's devastated family paid tribute to her in March, describing her as "bright and beautiful," "thoughtful" and "dependable."

Following her disappearance, Britons united in outrage and grief took to the streets and social media to share their own accounts of assault and to demand change. At a vigil organized to pay tribute to Everard earlier this year, London's Metropolitan Police force was widely condemned, as officers used force to break up groups of mourners.

At the time, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said the gathering was "unlawful" while citing coronavirus concerns.

Photos of officers arresting women and pinning others to the ground triggered further calls for better protection for women in a world where so many do not feel safe. Some chanted at officers, "Arrest your own."

Days before Everard vanished, Couzens was accused of exposing himself in a London restaurant. British media reported that he continued to serve as a working officer despite the allegation of indecent exposure on Feb 28.

Earlier this year, the Metropolitan Police said it had launched an investigation into whether officers had responded "appropriately" to the incident.

On Tuesday, Everard's name trended once again on social media, as many Britons took to Twitter to pay tribute to her.

"Thinking of everyone who knew Sarah Everard, and sending strength and solidarity with all women today," read one tweet. "Being able to walk home should be the bare minimum standard of safety for women. The BARE MINIMUM," read another.

Research published earlier this year from U.N. Women United Kingdom showed at least 97 percent of British women aged between 18 and 24 have experienced sexual harassment in public.

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