LONDON - A British police officer was sentenced to life in prison without parole on Thursday for the murder of Sarah Everard as she walked home in the evening after visiting friends in south London, a case which stirred protests over male violence towards women.

Wayne Couzens, 48, a serving London officer who had guarded diplomatic premises, had pleaded guilty to murder, rape and kidnap.

He had used his position as a police officer to stop and abduct her, London's Old Bailey court heard. His whole life sentence means he has no chance of parole.

He abducted Everard, 33, in a hire car as she walked home from a friend's house in south London on March 3. Her body was found in woodland around 50 miles (80 km) away in southeast England. A post-mortem concluded she had died as a result of compression of the neck.

"Wayne Couzens treated her with vile depravity. It was a truly evil thing to do," Nick Price of the Crown Prosecution Service said.

"We all feel betrayed that Couzens abused his position as a police officer to commit such abhorrent crimes. All of us should be free to walk our streets safely."

The murder prompted public rallies and outpourings of anger from women who have recounted their own experiences and fears of being out alone at night.

Couzens was sentenced after a two-day hearing. One witness saw Everard being handcuffed before her abduction and police investigating the case said he may have used COVID-19 protocols as an excuse to falsely arrest her before killing her.

"Our lives will never be the same. We should be a family of five, but now we are four," Everard's mother Susan said in an impact statement, read out in court at the hearing. "Her death leaves a yawning chasm in our lives that cannot be filled."

The Metropolitan Police Force, which investigated the murder and for whom Couzens worked, said it was "sickened, angered and devastated" by his crimes. Commissioner Cressida Dick has apologised to Everard's family.

Britain's police watchdog is looking into police failures to investigate an indecent exposure incident linked to Couzens in 2015, and two further such allegations in February this year.

Opposition lawmaker Harriet Harman called on Dick to resign.

"Sarah Everard was simply walking home. Women must be able to trust the police not fear them. Women's confidence in police will have been shattered," Harman said on Twitter.

(Reporting by Alistair Smout; editing by Sarah Young, Paul Sandle and Angus MacSwan) ((; +44 207 542 7064; Reuters Messaging: