Metropolitan Police commissioner Dame Cressida Dick has defied calls to resign, insisting she is not considering her position as officers’ actions at a vigil for Sarah Everard provoked criticism across the political divide.
Dame Cressida’s intervention came after the London mayor Sadiq Khan summoned her to a meeting at City Hall, and later issued a statement saying he was “not satisfied” with her explanation of events at Clapham Common on Saturday evening.
The Home Office said Priti Patel believed there were “still questions to be answered” after receiving an official report from the commissioner into “upsetting” scenes during which four arrests were made and at least one young woman was restrained on the ground by officers.
The department added that the home secretary had also ordered Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to conduct a “lessons learned” review into policing at the event – a move welcomed by Dame Cressida.
Speaking moments after a government source suggested Ms Patel still had “full confidence” in the commissioner, and as demonstrators gathered in Parliament Square, Dame Cressida was asked whether she was considering her position. “No, I’m not,” she replied.
The commissioner said what had happened to 33-year-old Sarah Everard, whose body was found in woodland in Kent last week, appalled her, adding: “As you know, I’m the first woman commissioner of the Met – perhaps it appals me even more because of that.”
Dame Cressida said events had made her “more determined, not less, to lead my organisation”, and said she was focused on “our streets being safer than they are now and feeling safer than they are now” for women.
She added that officers at the vigil were placed in an “invidious” position when crowds grew in south London on Saturday evening, and described their task as “fiendishly difficult policing” due to the government’s draconian coronavirus restrictions.
Quizzed on what she thought when she saw the pictures of the policing at the vigil, Dame Cressida said: “I wouldn’t have wanted to see a vigil in memory of Sarah end with those scenes.
“That’s why this morning I said – I wasn’t there, but from what I can tell – my officers [were] in a very difficult position, as they have been again and again in the last year, policing within coronavirus restrictions, having to uphold the law, having to be impartial, having to be fair.
“But of course, trying to apply common sense and discretion – and if people don’t understand the law, trying to help them to understand and engage and speak before we ever turn to any enforcement. But that is why I said we didn’t want it to end like that: let’s have a review.”
On Monday, Boris Johnson, who said he was “deeply concerned” about the footage from the south London vigil, will chair a meeting of the government’s crime and justice taskforce to discuss violence against women and girls. It is expected to be attended by ministers and senior police officers.
The prime minister said on Sunday he had spoken with Dame Cressida, adding: “The death of Sarah Everard must unite us in determination to drive out violence against women and girls and make every part of the criminal justice system work to protect and defend them”.
Earlier, the Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey had doubled down on his call for the commissioner to stand down, saying scenes were “utterly disgraceful and shame the Metropolitan Police”. The Labour MP for Streatham, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, said that Dame Cressida’s position was “untenable”.
“Lessons must be learned from last night,” she added. “At the very least, we need a Met leader [who] is actually willing to learn them.”
The Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said he was “very disturbed” at the police action on Clapham Common, and said women should have been given permission to hold the vigil “in peace”.
Asked whether the commissioner should resign, however, the Labour leader said: “I don’t think Cressida Dick should resign – we need to see the reports that have now been called for.”
Dame Vera Baird, the victims’ commissioner for England and Wales, told Sky News the decision of police to “push people away” at the vigil “seems to me to be a dreadful piece of misjudgement”, as she described the circling of the bandstand in Clapham Common as “quasi military”.
And she said: “Are they really improving the chances of Covid not spreading by putting their knees in the middle of the backs of young women, and putting their hands in handcuffs? It didn’t seem to me to be the right thing to do.”
Reclaim These Streets had organised the vigil before being forced to cancel it following consultation with the Metropolitan Police, which said it would be in breach of coronavirus restrictions. The group has asked Dame Cressida for an urgent meeting so that she can “explain the actions taken by the police last night, before she reports to the home secretary”.
After the clashes, organiser Jamie Klingler said the force’s handling of events was a sign of the “systemic ignoring and oppressing of women”.
In a statement the Home Office said: “The home secretary has read the report provided by the Metropolitan Police and feels there are still questions to be answered. In the interests of ensuring public confidence in the police, earlier this afternoon the home secretary asked Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to conduct a ‘lessons learned’ review into the policing of the event at Clapham Common.”
The dramatic events on Sunday – culminating in hundreds demonstrating in Parliament Square – also came amid concern over the introduction of the government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which contains contentious new powers for officers and the home secretary to impose conditions on public assembly.
David Lammy, the shadow justice secretary, said Labour would whip its MPs against the legislation this week in the Commons, saying it imposes “disproportionate controls” on the right to protest.
Campaigning group Liberty, which has accused Ms Patel of “relentlessly” demonising protesters, insisted: “Protest isn’t a gift from the state – it’s our fundamental right.
“Not content with all but banning protest during the pandemic, the government is now using this public health crisis as cover to make emergency measures permanent,” it added.
“Its new policing bill is an all-out assault on our right to protest. It’s those of who are most at risk of having our rights abused who will find we’re even less able to hold the powerful to account.”
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