Today Sarah Everard’s shattered parents Jeremy and Sue will be with their ‘bright and beautiful’ daughter in a peaceful stone-walled churchyard in York. She was buried there in May after a funeral for close family and friends.
They go to her grave every day to seek what solace they can.
Here, they can talk to her, comfort her, relive fond memories of a ‘wonderful daughter’ who was a ‘good person’ and had ‘purpose to her life’, as they described her in their impact statements during her killer’s sentencing this week. It is the closest they can be to her.
Beyond these stone walls there is only terrible grief, disbelief and the unfathomable questions that torment this family.
‘There are so many “whys” and “hows”,’ says Sarah’s cousin Marlene Smith. ‘Why do these people [Sarah’s monstrous killer, policeman Wayne Couzens] live? Why was an animal like that on the police force?
Sarah Everard’s cousin revealed her shattered parents Jeremy and Sue visit Sarah’s (pictured) grave in a churchyard in York every day as is the closest they can be to her
‘Why Sarah? She had a boyfriend. There was hope of marriage and children and grandchildren – a future life to be lived. It just stopped for her in a heartbeat. How could this have happened to her – to us?’
Today the family cannot bring themselves to refer, privately, to Couzens by name. He is ‘monster’, ‘creature’, ‘animal’ or ‘evil’ – a diabolical being who crashed into their life and irrevocably changed it when he murdered Sarah on March 3.
They now know Couzens was a sexual deviant who wasn’t fit to put on a police uniform, let alone be a serving officer on the night he abducted Sarah. For he was a suspect in sex offences dating back to 2015.
Indeed, as Marlene reveals in this exclusive interview, Sarah’s parents despaired as the investigation revealed the married father of two young children had indecently exposed himself (three times that we know of), was addicted to ‘brutal pornography’ and habitually visited prostitutes. Since his arrest it’s alleged at least three female officers have come forward and accused him of harassing them.
While the family remain ‘immensely grateful’ to the Metropolitan Police officers who worked on Sarah’s case for their ‘painstaking’ efforts and ‘constant support’, serious questions at missed chances to stop Couzens continue to pile up. Only yesterday it emerged that he had exchanged misogynistic, racist and homophobic texts with his police colleagues before the murder.
In an exclusive interview, Sarah’s cousin Marlene Smith (pictured), who lives in Florida, said her family want to know why Wayne Couzens was allowed to hide behind a badge as a police officer
‘How do you have an animal – a criminal like that – on the streets on your police force?’ Marlene asks. ‘It’s absolutely insane. Jeremy and Sue spoke to me about it when they learnt about it [that he’d indecently exposed himself]. They were horrified.
‘How is it possible that somebody on your force could be flashing his private parts to people and still belong on the force? There is something wrong. Why was it not investigated six years ago [when Couzens, then a special constable for Kent Police, was the registered owner of a vehicle in which a man was seen driving around his home county naked from the waist down]?
‘Even days before her murder, if the police had arrested him he would have been struck off and we’d still have Sarah. [Staff at a drive-thru McDonald’s in Swanley told police on February 28 that a motorist had exposed himself to two female workers. CCTV evidence with Couzens’s number plate was provided but detectives did not link the incidents to a fellow officer.]
‘Why was it not investigated – because he has friends on the force, perhaps? Instead, oh my God…’ Marlene breaks down in tears. She is Sarah’s second cousin; first cousin to her father, Jeremy. An articulate, no-nonsense former pilot and captain who lives in Florida and works as an instructor for America’s Spirit Airlines, her pain is red raw – like her fury. It is why she is speaking out for the family.
‘For a creature like that to be able to hide behind his badge, show his authority, like “I’m a policeman”, shouldn’t have been possible,’ she says. ‘Police officers are there to serve, to help protect the public. For him to have done this…. hell no…
‘Sarah would have never got into his car if he hadn’t been a policeman. She’s very street smart. She wore bright colours. She knew what she was doing. She’d told Jeremy and Sue she was going to visit a friend to have dinner.
‘She was just having a leisurely walk home. Why was he arresting her? [Couzens falsely arrested Sarah when Covid restrictions were at their height and police had already been accused of being heavy handed.] We think she just thought, “He’s a police officer, he showed me his badge.” She probably said, “OK, I don’t know why you’re arresting me, but I’ll go along with it.” I’m sure she was hoping if she went along with him she’d get justice.
‘From the moment he handcuffed her she was defenceless. She couldn’t fight…’ Marlene takes gulps of air to try to calm herself. ‘She couldn’t fight back.’ The Everards are a large, close-knit family with relatives scattered as far afield as Florida and the Caribbean. They are the sort of decent, law-abiding people who work hard, care for those around them, cherish their family and believe in the innate goodness of humankind – or they did.
They now know Couzens (pictured) was a sexual deviant who wasn’t fit to put on a police uniform, let alone be a serving officer on the night he abducted Sarah. For he was a suspect in sex offences dating back to 2015
Little more than a year before Sarah’s brutal murder, the family gathered in Florida for her great aunt’s [Marlene’s mother’s] 90th birthday. A cousin Patrick had recently died of cancer at the age of 64. The family thought that was about as sad as things got.
‘Jeremy and Sue stayed here at my house,’ says Marlene. ‘We are very, very close as a family. Jeremy is my first cousin. His mum, my aunt Pamela, went to England [from her native Jamaica] to be a nurse, which is where she met Jeremy’s father.
‘They visited us – my two brothers, two sisters and me – in Jamaica many, many times over the years as children. We grew up with them. We had a farm and would spend the holidays romping there together.
‘This morning [the day Couzens was sentenced to life in prison] my mum was in tears. She’s 92 and she is grieving so hard. She can’t understand how something this cruel can happen.
‘This has devastated the entire family. Now we know more detail – the terrible detail – of what happened, it torments us daily, every minute of every day. It’s horrific to know, not just that he burnt Sarah, but that he strangled her with his belt. It takes a while for people to die. We can only imagine her cries, hear her gasping for breath.’
Again Marlene, 54, cries huge sobs. She was getting ready for work on Thursday morning when one of her many cousins in England, Tom [Jeremy’s brother’s son], sent her a WhatsApp message to let her know Couzens had been sentenced to a whole life term so would die in jail.
Marlene said the grieving family are still asking, ‘Why Sarah? She had a boyfriend. There was hope of marriage and children and grandchildren – a future life to be lived. It just stopped for her in a heartbeat. How could this have happened to her – to us?’
The family had feared he would receive 25 years. It is, though, little solace. Their pain was read aloud in eloquent, even heroic, victim impact statements in court. Her sister, Katie, spoke of how they had gone to Sarah’s flat with her family to pack up her ‘whole life – washing left hanging up, half-sewn outfits, deliveries waiting to be returned, packages waiting at the door ready to be opened. All signs of life waiting to be lived’.
Her mother, Sue, a hugely private woman who works in charity, bared her soul to speak of a loss ‘so great it is visceral. And with the sorrow comes waves of panic at not being able to see her again. I can never talk to her, never hold her again, never more be a part of her life. We have kept her dressing gown – it still smells of her and I hug that instead of her’. Each evening, she told the court, at the time her daughter was abducted ‘I let out a silent scream: Don’t get in the car, Sarah. Don’t believe him. Run!’
Her 67-year-old father, Jeremy, a professor of electronics at the University of York – a stone’s throw from the churchyard where Sarah is buried – looked Couzens full on in the face and told him: ‘There’s a photograph of my beautiful daughter on the screen. She had a beautiful mind too. Mr Couzens, please, will you look at me?’
He continued: ‘You burnt our daughter’s body – you further tortured us – so that we could not see her again. We did not know whether you burnt her alive or dead. You stopped us seeing Sarah for one last time and stopped me from giving my daughter one last kiss goodbye.’
Many in the court wept as he finished: ‘The closest we can get to her now is to visit her grave every day.’ But Couzens still refused to look at him.
‘They were so dignified, but that’s the kind of people we are,’ says Marlene. ‘We’re not going to create a scene. We are not ones to be in the limelight, but we’ve been forced to be because of what happened.
‘None of us can comprehend that level of evil. We don’t understand what goes through someone’s mind to think it’s OK to just snatch somebody off the street and rape them and strangle them just for your delight, just for your pleasure – it’s unfathomable.
‘I was just bawling listening to Sue and Jeremy’s statements on the news. I wanted him to look Jeremy in the eyes. How could he have done something so cruel? Oh my God…’ Again, she is overwhelmed.
‘I thought that was so profound when he said, “look at me”, explain to me because you have kids of your own so explain to me. Tell me why? How could you? How dare you? For them to be in the same room as the individual who did this… I don’t have any children of my own but… I can only imagine as a parent – good, loving parents like Jeremy and Sue – you love your children, you protect them from everything. You brought them into this world and you look out for their wellbeing. You make sure they are fed and protected, housed and clothed. You nurture them.
‘As Sue said, Sarah wasn’t sick. If she had been sick she would have had somebody to care for her. She wasn’t in an accident. She was just robbed from the streets.’
It was via a family Facebook page that Marlene learnt Sarah had gone missing on that fateful evening in March. ‘I called them and said, “Is this real?” They said, “Yes Marlene, it is true. Sarah’s missing.” In the beginning we had hope. Even when they said they’d found her, we were hoping that, perhaps, she was still alive.
‘When I heard they’d found “human remains”, is how they described it initially, I knew someone was dead. We just didn’t know it was her – still you hope.
‘Because of the time difference [Florida is five hours behind the UK] I was watching the news the whole time and getting updates from Jeremy and Sue and Jeremy’s brothers Nicholas and Douglas.
‘They were horrified when her body was found – in such total disbelief,’ she continues through her tears. ‘It’s hard to talk about what took place – so tormenting to imagine what she could have suffered. Then when they were told it was a police officer… I’m sorry, it’s beyond words. It’s…’ She stops mid-sentence. ‘Why?’ she asks.
‘We’re all hurting so badly. Jeremy does some work at the university but I know he’s taken time off. This has stunned them so much, they – all of us – are just numb to the rest of the world.
‘Sarah was so lively. She was so full of fun and had many years of wonderful life to live. It’s senseless, absolutely senseless.
‘If Sarah had been sick, they could have hugged her until she took her last breath, but there was nothing. They couldn’t even say goodbye. So they go to her grave every day – every day,’ she emphasises.
‘Jeremy and Sue should have been at her wedding. They should have played with her children. He took that from them, a police officer took that from them. The closest they can be to her now is her grave.’