Sarah Everard murder: What is a whole life order?

·Freelance Writer
·3-min read

Watch: Wayne Couzens handed whole life sentence for kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard

Wayne Couzens has been handed a rare life order for the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard, making him the first police officer to be given such an order. 

The 48-year-old was sentenced on Thursday day for the “grotesque” killing of the 33-year-old marketing executive, a crime which shocked and outraged the nation, and he will spend the rest of his life in jail. 

Couzens falsely arrested Ms Everard for breaking lockdown rules before kidnapping her and strangling her with his police belt.

Wayne Couzens has been given a whole life order for the murder of Sarah Everard. (PA)
Wayne Couzens has been given a whole life order for the murder of Sarah Everard. (PA)

Sentencing at the Old Bailey, Lord Justice Fulford described the circumstances of the murder as “grotesque”. He said the seriousness of the case was so “exceptionally high” that it warranted a whole life order.

What does a ‘whole life order’ mean?

Whole-life orders are the most severe punishment available in the UK criminal justice system for those who commit the most serious crimes.

In being handed such a sentence, Couzens joins a string of some of the country’s most dangerous offenders, who are expected to die behind bars.

They will never be considered for release, unless there are exceptional compassionate grounds to warrant it.

Home secretaries could previously issue whole-life tariffs, but these are now determined by judges.

Under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is currently going through parliament, the government is trying to expand the use of whole-life orders for premeditated murder of a child.

The reforms would also allow judges to hand out the maximum sentence to 18- to 20-year-olds in exceptional cases, such as for acts of terrorism leading to mass loss of life.

It would also give judges the discretion, in exceptional circumstances, to impose a whole-life order on offenders aged 18 or over but under 21.

Metropolitan Police undated handout photo of Levi Bellfield who was found guilty at the Old Bailey today of the murder of two young women.
Milly Dowler killer Levi Bellfield is serving two whole life orders. (PA)

How many criminals are currently serving one?

There are 60 criminals serving whole-life orders, according to government figures to the end of June.

Among those are Milly Dowler’s killer, Levi Bellfield, who is thought to be the only criminal in UK legal history to be serving two whole-life orders – for her murder, the killings of Marsha McDonnell and Amelie Delagrange, and the attempted murder of Kate Sheedy.

Undated Metropolitan Police file handout photo of one of the two murderers of soldier Lee Rigby, Michael Adebolajo who is suing for compensation two years after his teeth were knocked out during an incident in the high security Belmarsh prison.
Michael Adebolajo, one of the two murderers of soldier Lee Rigby, is serving a whole life sentence. (PA)

Other notorious criminals serving whole-life orders include Gloucester serial killer Rose West; Michael Adebolajo, one of Fusilier Lee Rigby’s killers; Mark Bridger, who murdered five-year-old April Jones in Wales; Grindr serial killer Stephen Port and neo-Nazi Thomas Mair, who killed MP Jo Cox.

Before they died, Moors murderer Ian Brady and his girlfriend Myra Hindley, Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe, and doctor Harold Shipman – thought to be one of Britain’s most prolific serial killers – were also among those serving whole-life orders.

Watch: Sarah Everard murder: Wayne Couzens' whole life sentence 'doesn't bring her back'

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