LONDON — A police officer was charged late Friday with kidnapping and murdering Sarah Everard, a marketing executive who went missing in South London last week and whose disappearance had touched off a national outcry over violence against women.
The Metropolitan Police said that the officer, Wayne Couzens, 48, whose primary role was patrolling diplomatic premises, would appear in court on Saturday to face the charges.
A body that was found this week in a wooded area in southeast England was definitively identified as Ms. Everard’s earlier on Friday, ending days of uncertainty.
In just days, her case had come to symbolize a longstanding problem that many women said plagues Britain and could no longer be ignored: that at home or in public spaces, many women are not safe.
“Dead women is just one of those things,” Jess Phillips, a Labour lawmaker, said in Parliament on Thursday, lamenting the prevalence of violence against women in the country.
During the parliamentary session, an annual commemoration of International Women’s Day, Ms. Phillips read out the names of 118 women who were killed over the past year in cases in which a man was convicted or charged in the case. “Killed women are not vanishingly rare, killed women are common,” she said.
Mr. Couzens had been arrested earlier this week in Kent, 80 miles southeast of London, along with a woman in her 30s who was detained on suspicion of assisting an offender. She has since been released.
Mr. Couzens was being held on suspicion of indecent exposure in a separate episode that appears to have occurred days before Ms. Everard’s disappearance. The regulatory body overseeing the police is investigating whether two officers acted appropriately in handling that case.
Ms. Everard left a friend’s house in the Clapham neighborhood, in south London, around 9 p.m. on March 3, and she was last seen on a CCTV camera at 9.30 p.m. in a residential area. The journey home should have taken her around 50 minutes.
The remains of a body were discovered in Kent by the police on Wednesday, dimming hopes that Ms. Everard would be found alive.
“Sarah was bright and beautiful — a wonderful daughter and sister,” her family said on Thursday. “She was kind and thoughtful, caring and dependable,” they added, describing her as “a shining example to us all.”
The testimonies from women recounting their experiences of assault, harassment in public spaces and walking the streets in fear were met with widespread support by lawmakers in Parliament on Thursday.
“How often have we said to a friend on the way home: ‘Be safe, text me when you get home,’” said Angela Crawley, from the Scottish National Party. “The fear alone should tell us we have a problem.”
Rosie Duffield, a Labour party lawmaker, said the testimonies of harassment circulating on social media showed that women had had enough. “We are tired of having to risk-assess every ordinary everyday action every hour of every day of our lives,” she said.
Although the police authorities said this week that abductions in London were rare, Mayor Sadiq Khan acknowledged on Friday that the British capital’s streets were not safe enough for women. He also called on men to be aware of the imbalance between women’s experiences and theirs.
“If you’re a woman or a girl, your experiences of our city, in any public space, whether it’s in the workplace, on the streets, on public transport, is very different to if you are a man or a boy,” Mr. Khan said on LBC radio.
The murder of Ms. Everard is likely to add urgency to a plan aimed at tackling violence against women and girls that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government said it would unveil later this year.
According to End Violence Against Women, a coalition of researchers and organizations, more than 500,000 women are sexually assaulted every year in Britain. One in five women will be subjected to sexual assault during her lifetime, according to national statistics.
“It’s the threat, the fear of something happening to you,” said Mandu Reid, the leader of Britain’s Equality Party. “Every single girl and woman has to live this with every single day in their lives.”
The arrest of Mr. Couzens, who joined the Metropolitan Police in 2018 and had been with a unit called the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Command since last year, has also added a sense of anger and insecurity. On Friday, the Metropolitan Police faced even greater scrutiny after the police watchdog announced that it was investigating whether two officers had “responded appropriately” to the allegation of indecent exposure against him.
The alleged incident occurred on Feb. 28 at a fast-food restaurant in South London, the police watchdog said, three days before Ms. Everard disappeared. It remains unclear why Mr. Couzens was not suspended following the incident.
“If that had been followed up, he would have been suspended from duty,” said Mick Neville, a former chief detective inspector at the Metropolitan Police. “Officers must have treated this as a minor matter, not thinking that he was a police officer, and in hindsight, it took tragic proportions.”
Mr. Couzens worked on the day of Ms. Everard’s disappearance, but was off duty when she was last seen.
In a separate but related dispute, the organizers of a vigil for Ms. Everard that was planned for Saturday said that the Metropolitan Police had called the gathering unlawful because of coronavirus restrictions, and that it had threatened to fine them.
A court in London ruled on Friday that the gathering could be deemed unlawful by the authorities. “Our message to those who were looking to attend vigils in London this weekend, including at Clapham Common, is stay at home or find a lawful and safer way to express your views,” Cmdr. Catherine Roper of the Metropolitan Police said.
Home Secretary Priti Patel, who oversees the country’s police forces, sought to contain mounting criticism against the Metropolitan Police on Friday.
“If you are feeling angry or worried, please try to remember that tens of thousands of police officers are equally sickened by what has happened, and there are currently hundreds of dedicated officers working night and day to bring the perpetrator to justice,” Ms. Patel wrote in The Sun newspaper.
Nick Ephgrave, an assistant commissioner at the Metropolitan Police, said, “I know that the public feel deeply hurt and angry and I speak on behalf of all my colleagues when I say that we too are horrified.”