LONDON – The suspected abduction and murder of a young London woman as she walked home has dismayed Britain and revived a painful question: Why are women too often not safe on the streets?
The fate of Sarah Everard is all the more shocking because the suspect charged Friday with abducting and killing her is a U.K. police officer whose job was protecting politicians and diplomats.
Everard, a 33-year-old marketing executive, set out on the 50-minute walk home from a friend’s house in south London at about 9 p.m. on March 3. She never arrived. On Friday police confirmed that a body found hidden in woodland 50 miles (80 kilometers) southeast of the city is hers.
London police arrested a member of the force's Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Command on Tuesday as a suspect in the case. Late Friday police charged the officer, Constable Wayne Couzens, with kidnapping and murder. Couzens, 48, was due to appear in court on Saturday.
In a statement issued Thursday, Everard’s family said “our beautiful daughter Sarah was taken from us and we are appealing for any information that will help to solve this terrible crime.”
“I know that the public feel hurt and angry about what has happened, and those are sentiments I share personally,” said Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Nick Ephgrave,
Everard’s disappearance and killing has caused a nationwide outcry, with thousands appealing on social media for information to help find her. Women also then began sharing experiences of being threatened or attacked — or simply facing the everyday fear of violence when walking alone.
“When she went missing, any woman who has ever walked home alone at night felt that grim, instinctive sense of recognition,” columnist Gaby Hinsliff wrote in The Guardian. “Footsteps on a dark street. Keys gripped between your fingers. There but for the grace of God.”
Organizers of a planned vigil in Everard’s memory failed in a legal attempt to win the right to hold the event despite coronavirus restrictions that bar mass gatherings.
The Reclaim These Streets organizers want to hold a socially distanced gathering Saturday on Clapham Common, an open space on the route of Everard’s walk home.
A High Court judge refused Friday to grant an order saying such a gathering would be lawful, meaning the organizers could face fines of up to 10,000 pounds ($14,000).
“I understand this ruling will be a disappointment to those hoping to express their strength of feeling, but I ask women and allies across London to find a safe alternative way to express their views," said police Commander Catherine Roper.
Despite the court ruling, some women said they still planned to protest on Saturday.
The case has raised tough questions for the police. Britain’s police watchdog is investigating how the force handled a complaint of indecent exposure against the same suspect, three days before Everard disappeared.
The Independent Office of Police Conduct is also investigating how the suspect sustained a head injury while he was in custody. The police force says he was found injured in his cell and taken to a hospital for treatment before being returned to a police station.