The woman detective who led the hunt for Wayne Couzens has described her horror on learning the monster was in their midst.
Speaking for the first time, Detective Chief Inspector Katherine Goodwin revealed how she tracked down the killer within a week of him snatching Sarah Everard off a busy street in Clapham, south-west London, on March 3.
In an extraordinary insight into the fast-paced investigation, the experienced murder squad detective hit back at criticism over a two-hour delay to arrest Couzens which allowed him to wipe his phone records, potentially destroying evidence.
Recalling the moment she learnt of his identity from records of the hire car he used to carry out the abduction, she said: ‘I’ll never forget the moment one of my team came running into my office, closed the door and told me that the renter of that car was a serving police officer.
Detective Chief Inspector Katherine Goodwin (pictured) revealed how she tracked down the killer within a week of him snatching Sarah Everard off a busy street in Clapham, London
‘I was in absolute shock. For a split second, I thought perhaps there was a reasonable explanation.
‘However, all we knew about Sarah by this point made it clear it was very unlikely she’d voluntarily gone off with someone unknown to her, and almost immediately it felt wrong.’
Her team had to trawl through 2,000 hours of CCTV, more than 415 calls and messages from the public and 97 reports from other forces to narrow down the search area to a 300-metre stretch of road in the capital.
The hunt started the morning after Sarah’s disappearance at 9.30pm on Wednesday March 3 as she was walking home from a friend’s house in Clapham.
‘When I read the daily briefing and saw her disappearance had been reported out of character, something immediately rang alarm bells,’ the detective said.
By Saturday, the missing persons investigation had been handed to the homicide team and Miss Goodwin set up an incident room in Putney.
Miss Goodwin said she was in ‘absolute shock’ to then find out Couzens (pictured) was a service officer
She said: ‘One of the first things we did was to build a picture of Sarah and her lifestyle. It was clear that no one could think of the reason for Sarah to disappear of her own accord.’
Teams were dispatched to track her likely route home and collect CCTV and doorbell footage.
On Sunday March 7, police had two vital pieces of information that would narrow down the search to a 300-metre area.
Sarah’s phone was last active on Poynders Road, Clapham, at 9.28pm and CCTV confirmed she had walked that way but never reached the next junction just three minutes away.
Officers requested CCTV from buses and dash cam footage from passing vehicles but some took days to retrieve.
On March 9 at 3pm they got the breakthrough, receiving footage from a bus showing Miss Everard with a male figure standing by a white car with the hazard lights flashing.
The detective said: ‘It was so incredible to have that concrete lead that finally gave us an indication as to where she may have gone. But, it still didn’t provide an explanation as to why she might have got into the car.’
Number plate checks revealed it was rented to Couzens in Dover, but the officer said: ‘When we had the name Wayne Couzens, we knew nothing else other than the name, telephone number and address that he’d given to the hire car company.
‘Our researchers and analysts immediately began to work out as much as possible about him.’
She said she was in ‘absolute shock’ to then find out Couzens was a service officer.
Police arrived at Couzens’ home at 5.45pm but did not arrest him for a further two hours. This allowed Couzens, who may have spotted plain-clothes officers nearby, to wipe his phone at 7.11pm.
Yesterday, Miss Goodwin defended delaying the arrest until 7.45pm saying colleagues had only known his name for a matter of hours and were still tracing the hire car movements to determine what happened.
The hunt started the morning after Sarah’s (pictured) disappearance at 9.30pm on Wednesday March 3 as she was walking home from a friend’s house in Clapham
She said: ‘We made the rare decision to conduct an urgent interview, this was in order to try and locate Sarah if she was still alive. What followed was the second shock of that night. Couzens concocted a story that he handed Sarah to a gang in repayment for a debt.
‘Whilst clearly believing it to be ridiculous, we had to consider whether there was any truth in it. The fact that it ended up being completely untrue and wasted precious time just shows the sort of person he is.’
Officers spent the night searching Hoads Wood – finding her body the next day at 4pm on March 10.
Over the coming days, a total of 16 crime scenes were searched and the team reviewed 1,727 pieces of evidence, 295 forensic samples and nearly 4 terabytes of data.
The officer added: ‘Finding out he was a police officer was the most shocking thing ever. But when we got that evidence of how he got Sarah into that car, abusing his position to do so, it was even more devastating.’