The increasingly desperate search for Sarah Everard yesterday narrowed to rainswept woodland 55 miles from where she went missing where officers found human remains.
As officers painstakingly combed 500-acre Hoad’s Wood, locals said it was often used as a dumping ground. Two miles west of Ashford in Kent, the desolate spot is flanked by a railway line and an abandoned golf and paintballing centre.
Rob, a resident whose family owns part of the wood, said: ‘My family used to bury sheep in there in the old days. No one ever goes through it because it’s private. It’s all bramble and trees.’ He said flytippers often dumped rubbish there, including old cars, including a burnt-out silver Ford Focus close to where officers were searching.
It is also 30 miles from the Deal home of suspect Wayne Couzens, 48, who was arrested late on Tuesday night reportedly after a breakthrough from CCTV on a bus that passed Sarah on her route home to Brixton at 9.30pm on March 3.
90 minutes earlier Couzens, an armed officer with the Met’s diplomatic protection squad, is said to have finished a shift guarding the US Embassy close to Battersea Power station, going home to Kent via an armoury to drop off his gun.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick confirmed human remains have been found in the week-long search for 33-year-old marketing executive Sarah Everard
VANISHED AFTER VISITING FRIEND
The grim hunt unfolded a week after Miss Everard, a 33-year-old marketing manager, vanished as she walked home through south London. It is understood the police breakthrough came after officers examined CCTV footage.
Police spent days desperately trying to piece together Miss Everard’s last known movements.
Last Wednesday she visited a friend’s house in Leathwaite Road, Clapham, leaving there at about 9pm. The walk back to her flat in Brixton should have taken her about 50 minutes. But video footage from an estate agent’s CCTV camera near her home showed no sign of her.
From her friend’s house, Miss Everard is believed to have walked across Clapham Common. The ponds in the park were one of the first places searched, by officers in cold-water suits.
Wayne Couzens, left, is understood to be currently sporting a beard like the one above, and right early in his career
In her green rain jacket, blue and white diamond print trousers, blue and orange trainers and green earphones under a white beanie hat, Miss Everard cut a distinctive figure, and police appealed for anyone who might have seen her.
They issued an image of her from a supermarket CCTV camera buying wine on the way to her friend.
As she threaded her way through a network of residential streets, she spoke on the phone to her boyfriend Josh Lowth. Their conversation lasted about 15 minutes, ending shortly before 9.30pm.
Officers from the Metropolitan Police stand at a police cordon on Fridd Lane near an area of woodland in Ashford in Kent following the discovery of human remains
My Met Police colleagues are all utterly appalled
Speaking outside Scotland Yard last night, a grim-faced Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick broke the news of the tragic discovery of human remains.
I want to start by saying that my thoughts and prayers are with Sarah Everard’s family and her friends at this very difficult and painful time.
As you are aware, a man has been arrested on suspicion of her murder.
This evening detectives and search teams investigating Sarah’s disappearance have very sadly discovered what we believe at this stage to be human remains… The news today that it was a Metropolitan Police officer arrested on suspicion of Sarah’s murder has sent waves of shock and anger through the public and through the whole of the Met.
I speak on behalf of all my colleagues in the Met when I say we are utterly appalled at this dreadful news.
Our job is to patrol the streets and to protect people… Sarah’s disappearance in these awful and wicked circumstances is every family’s worst nightmare.
I know Londoners will want to know that it is thankfully incredibly rare for a woman to be abducted from our streets.
But I completely understand that despite this, women in London and the wider public – particularly those in the area where Sarah went missing – will be worried and may well be feeling scared.
THE DESPERATION OF HER FAMILY
Miss Everard comes from York, studied at Durham University, and moved to the capital for work around 12 years ago. Intelligent and outgoing, she works for a company that organises trade shows. Her brother James and sister Katie also live in London.
Her gut-wrenching disappearance plunged her family into frantic worry. Her father Jeremy, a professor of electronics at the University of York, and mother Sue, left their £700,000 York home to join the round-the-clock search for their daughter.
They asked the media and the public for help, saying: ‘With every day that goes by we are getting more worried about Sarah.
‘She is always in regular contact with us and with her friends and it is totally out of character for her to disappear like this. We long to see her and want nothing more than for her to be found safe and well.
‘No piece of information is too insignificant.’
Miss Everard’s sister wrote on Facebook: ‘No words. Please share and contact me if you hear anything.’ Mr Lowth begged people to help locate his ‘beautiful friend’.
DOORBELL CAMERA BREAKTHROUGH
Police upgraded the search to the murder squad, but stressed they were still treating it as a missing person case.
The breakthrough came on Poynders Road, a stretch of the capital’s busy South Circular, in Clapham. An image of Miss Everard was captured by a doorbell camera on a house along the road at around 9.30pm.
Police have not released this image, but it is believed to be the last time she was sighted. Cameras further along the same street failed to capture her.
Detective Chief Inspector Katherine Goodwin, leading the investigation, had appealed for anyone with footage to come forward – especially anyone driving along Poynders Road.
The Met officer said: ‘The evidence that you have on your dash-cam could be absolutely vital to finding Sarah.’
On Tuesday, a police cordon went up and officers wearing forensic suits conducted fingertip searches along Poynders Road and a nearby housing estate close to Clapham South Tube.
Specialist divers and officers with sniffer dogs were seen looking in ponds in nearby Agnes Riley Gardens. Drains were also inspected during the searches.
Sarah Everard, 33, ‘vanished into thin air’ after leaving a friend’s house in Clapham, south London on Wednesday night
Police watchdog is set to probe the Sarah Everard investigation
The probe into Sarah Everard’s disappearance has been referred to the police watchdog.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct confirmed it had received a referral from Scotland Yard regarding one of its officers arrested on suspicion of kidnap, murder and indecent exposure. It has also received a mandatory referral relating to the actions of police after Miss Everard was reporting missing.
An IOPC spokesman yesterday said it was assessing whether further action was needed regarding the conduct of investigators.
HELICOPTERS AND TORCHLIT SEARCHES
Events moved quickly on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. Neighbours noticed a Land Rover parked close to policeman Wayne Couzens’ house in the Kent coastal town of Deal, and thought it was being watched. Then around 9pm, some two dozen police swooped.
Locals reported the Couzens’ family garden was being dug up and a police tent erected. Meanwhile, simultaneous searches were launched in scrubland at Betteshanger Park north of Deal and at Hoad’s Wood, 30 miles away.
A homeowner near the latter said officers brandishing torches had descended on the former entrance of the now disused Great Chart Golf Course and adjacent derelict buildings around midnight.
He said: ‘The police were searching ditches and outbuildings. They knocked on our door and asked to search our buildings which of course was fine.
‘The officer said they were from the Met and looking for a ‘high risk missing person’.They had the helicopters out with their searchlights on until about 4am.
‘The area they’re searching has been empty for a couple of years. It’s so remote. Someone would have to know the area, to come here. We only ever get locals round here. It used to be a golf complex and a leisure facility with paintballing. It backs on to woods. There have been more than 20 officers here since last night and they had the sniffer dogs out.’
Miss Everard’s uncle, Nick Everard, described the arrest as a ‘shocking development’.