A London police officer appeared in court on Saturday after being charged with the kidnap and murder of a 33-year-old woman in a case that has caused widespread outrage in Britain about women’s safety.
The disappearance of Sarah Everard as she walked home on the evening of March 3 has triggered a wave of accounts from women about the dangers they have felt and experienced when walking streets alone at night, accompanied by calls for action.
Kate, Britain’s Duchess of Cambridge, was among those who paid their respects on Saturday at an impromptu memorial that sprang up around the bandstand on Clapham Common in southwest London, near where Everard was last seen alive.
A palace official said Kate “remembers what it was like to walk around London at night before she was married”.
Later on Saturday as night fell, around a thousand people - mostly women - gathered at the site to pay their respects and protest at the lack of security they felt when out alone, with some chanting “shame on you” at police who were present.
London’s Metropolitan Police had warned people not to gather in large numbers due to coronavirus restrictions. The head of the force, Cressida Dick, said any gathering “would be unlawful and would be unsafe”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he and his partner Carrie Symonds would light a candle in memory of Everard on Saturday evening.
“I will do everything I can to make sure the streets are safe and ensure women and girls do not face harassment or abuse,” he said.
Appearing at London’s Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Saturday morning, 48-year-old police officer Wayne Couzens, wearing a grey tracksuit, spoke only to confirm his identity.
Couzens’s lawyer did not enter a plea to the charges of kidnap and murder ahead of a fuller court hearing scheduled for Tuesday. Couzens remains in custody.
Police discovered Everard’s body on Wednesday in woodland about 50 miles (80 km) southeast of London. The court heard that her body was found in a builder’s refuse bag, and was identified using dental records.
Couzens joined the Metropolitan Police in 2018 and guarded foreign embassies before his arrest.
England’s police watchdog has launched an investigation into the Metropolitan Police’s handling of the case.