The lies of a killer

How to spot deception

The man who murdered Sarah Everard has been given a whole-life prison sentence for committing a horrific crime.

As part of the sentencing proceedings a video was released showing Wayne Couzens being interviewed by the police. It’s obvious that the odious Couzens lied his way through the interview, so it gives a case study in some of the ways liars hide the truth.

Let’s break it down

Officer: Do you know Sarah?

Couzens: I don’t, no

People try to avoid lying. It’s stressful and we know it’s easily detected. The least stressful thing to do is tell the truth. People will perform mental and linguistic gymnastics in order to come up with a form of words which look and sound like a denial but allow them to say to themselves “I was truthful”.

In this case Couzens can answer truthfully that he doesn’t know Sarah. He brutally attacked and killed her but he never knew her.

Watch for people answering truthfully but look at how narrow that truth can be.

Officer: Would you like to… do you know where Sarah is

Couzens: no

We know this is a lie. When people deny something truthfully the answer tends to be “no, I didn’t” followed by the exact thing they are accused of. While a straight “no” it not in itself an indiction of a lie, it’s a warning flag.

Officer: Do you know anything about what happened to her?

Couzens: I know that, um, she went missing up in um London somewhere um about a week ago or so just from what I got on the news

There are a couple of flags in this answer. There is a lot of pausing while Couzens’ brain checks ahead that words he’s going to use won’t land him in trouble. We can look exactly where the pauses, ums and stutters come in a sentence to see what’s causing that stress, whatever comes next is problematic for the person.

There there’s an um before “she went missing”, that’s because Couzens knows there’s more to it than “went missing” but his brain has to work out how not to say what it knows but to say the words everyone knows.

The next um is before London. That’s again because Couzens knows exactly where she went missing because he’s the man that abducted her. Again, his brain has to pause, stop itself from giving the detail it knows and say London. He then adds in “somewhere” to further try and convince he has no clue of the exact location.

The final um is before the time of the disappearance. Again, Couzens knows the exact day, date and time it happened and his brain needs to pause to put together words that don’t come instinctively.

The other flag is the line “just from what I got on the news” whenever you see the word “just” pay attention to what follows as it is sensitive to the person saying it. Here the “just” is used to “convince” that he only knows what he’s seen on the news. This is an over-explanation; he hasn’t been asked how he knows anything but what he knows.

Officer: Have you ever personally met her?

Couzens: No, not personally no

This is almost an admission of guilt. The word “personally” in the question allows Couzens a loophole to work with to deny meeting her personally. He does not deny ever having met her. The implication in Couzens’ answer is he has met her, only not personally. (His internal definition of personally will be at play here)

Officer: Have you had any interactions with her at all?

Couzens: No, what i, what, what why would I have personal interactions with her?

From the stutters and stumbles you know this question has caused Couzens stress. His brain is working overtime to find a loophole in the word “interactions” that will allow him to talk round it. However, it can’t find one, so he tries to buy more time and deflect from the question by asking a question in reply to a question. A sure sign of someone who wants to withhold an honest answer.

Couzens eventually concocts a cock and bull story to try and get him off. It’s so horrific to hear that I won’t dwell on too many details but in his words, which we know are outright lies, we can spot more signs of deception.

I tried to f*** over on one of their call girls and tried to rip her off, so she's told them and they've got me. They just tell me be here, be here, so Hotel Burstin in Folkestone, be here. 

So I turned up. But I've got no mobile number, and they have got my mobile number – they're obviously outside watching, following… I just, honestly. 

Two things to note in this. First, he jumps between past and present tense. When you’re under pressure and currently inventing a story that’s happening in your mind it’s incredibly hard to always deliver it in past tense. That’s because it’s presently happening in your brain.

Next is the word “just” again. It’s always worth investigation what comes after. Here it’s the word “honestly” which people often use when they are being dishonest. If you’re being honest, we rarely feel the need to try and persuade someone you’re being honest.

For example, if the post had just been delivered you don’t say “The postman has just been, honestly” or you’d never say “It’s raining outside right now, honestly”. (Unless the person you’re talking to doesn’t believe it the first time you’ve told them, in which case you are using honestly to convince)

Think of the times you’ve used honestly to highlight an exaggeration. “Honestly, it’s so dark out there it looks like night-time” or “honestly, this room looks like a tornado has hit it”.

Three guys got out, opened my door, opened that door and pushed me out against the front of the car, took the girl, drove off, that's it. They said: 'We'll be in touch.

Look at the ordering here. The mythical three men got out, pushed him around, drove off AND THEN said, “we’ll be in touch”. If they’d driven off, he’d have no idea what they said. The order people mention things in is very important, when people make up a story that order is often very messy.

It’s a horrible case that has raised a lot of questions about our society. Sarah Everard’s family have spoken of their despair and have my utmost sympathy.