Protesters and police scuffle after Sarah Everard vigil

Sarah Everard: Priti Patel demands full report into Metropolitan Police’s ‘upsetting’ response to Clapham vigil

Mayor of London criticises ‘unacceptable’ scenes as officers arrest demonstrators

Peter Stubley
Saturday 13 March 2021 23:10
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Priti Patel has demanded a full report from the Metropolitan Police after its response to a vigil for Sarah Everard was criticised as "unacceptable" and "deeply disturbing".

Clashes broke out as officers attempted to disperse a crowd of hundreds of people gathered at the bandstand in Clapham Common on Saturday evening. Four arrests were made.

Several demonstrators were forcibly pulled away while at least one young woman was restrained on the floor by two officers. People could be heard shouting "shame on you" and "you are scum" at the police, while one woman screamed, "You're supposed to protect us".

The crowd had defied warnings not to attend because of coronavirus restrictions, after the official Reclaim These Streets event was cancelled and replaced with a doorstep and online vigil.

Police said the gathering was "unsafe", adding: "Hundreds of people are tightly packed together in breach of the regulations and risking public health. We are urging people to go home and we thank those who have been engaging with officers and who are leaving."

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However, officers’ tactics were widely criticised by MPs, the London mayor and campaigners.

Ms Patel, the home secretary, tweeted: “Some of the footage circulating online from the vigil in Clapham is upsetting. I have asked the Metropolitan Police for a full report on what happened.”

Sadiq Khan said he was “urgently seeking an explanation” from Cressida Dick, the commissioner, following what he described as “unacceptable” scenes. He added: “The police have a responsibility to enforce Covid laws but from images I’ve seen it’s clear the response was at times neither appropriate nor proportionate.”

Reclaim These Streets said it was angered by officers "physically manhandling women at a vigil against male violence” and that the Met had failed to understand that “women would need a place to mourn, reflect and show solidarity”.

Labour leader Keir Starmer described the scenes as "deeply disturbing". He added: “Women came together to mourn Sarah Everard – they should have been able to do so peacefully. I share their anger and upset at how this has been handled. This was not the way to police this protest.”

Tory MP Steve Baker, an outspoken critic of coronavirus regulations, described the scenes as "unspeakable" and told Boris Johnson: "You need to change lockdown laws now." Fellow Tory MP James Wild said: "Policing is by consent. Tonight the Met Police have failed & the scenes of women being manhandled at a vigil are appalling. When people understandably came despite advice not to, this wasn’t the right way to respond."

Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat leader, called on Ms Dick to "consider her position", and added: "This was a complete abject tactical and moral failure on the part of the police.”

Local MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy claimed that officers in the borough had attempted to reach agreement with the organisers "but were overruled from high up". She added: "They'll be left to deal with the fallout of this and the further burden it places on already strained community relationships. Very disappointing from Scotland Yard."

Downing Street declined to comment. The Met also declined to comment on claims local officers were overruled.

Before the vigil Ms Dick had urged people to "find other ways" of expressing their emotions about the issues raised by the Sarah Everard case.

She said: "I know many people want to come together to express that sadness together... and I completely understand that desire but we are still in a global pandemic and such a gathering would be unlawful and would be unsafe. So I appeal to people to express their sadness and their solidarity and their really strong feelings about women's safety in other ways."

The Duchess of Cambridge was among visitors to the site on Saturday afternoon – before the police moved in. She was seen walking through the area looking at the flowers and messages left at the bandstand. Kate “remembers what it was like to walk around London at night before she was married”, Kensington Palace said.

The Met released a statement about the Clapham vigil shortly before 1am on Sunday. In it, assistant commissioner Helen Ball said officers had acted responsibly to protect public health. “The pandemic is not over,” she said.

Ms Ball added that officers had a “difficult decision” to make after some people at the memorial “began to gather close to the bandstand” to listen to speeches at about 6pm.

She said: “Those who gathered were spoken to by officers on a number of occasions and over an extended period of time. We repeatedly encouraged those who were there to comply with the law and leave. Regrettably, a small minority of people began chanting at officers, pushing and throwing items.”

Four people were arrested on suspicion of public order offences and of breaching coronavirus rules. Officers’ actions on Saturday night would be reviewed, Ms Ball said.

The scenes in Clapham contrasted with those at other vigils across the UK, including in Nottingham and Birmingham.

While more than 100 people defied a police request to stay away from Birmingham city centre, an hour-long gathering passed off without incident and no obvious sign of uniformed police.

In Walthamstow women dressed in red cloaks and bonnets, inspired by Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel The Handmaid's Tale. Labour MP Stella Creasy tweeted: "Tonight women in Walthamstow made their feelings about the failure to tackle violence against women clear."

TV presenter Sandi Toksvig opened an online event organised by the Feminists of London group by saying: "This has to be a turning point where ending violence finally becomes a political priority."

Ms Everard went missing while walking home from a friend's flat in south London on 3 March. Her body was found in a large bag in an area of woodland in Ashford, Kent, on Wednesday.

Wayne Couzens, a serving Metropolitan Police constable, is charged with kidnapping and murdering the 33-year-old marketing executive.

He appeared at Westminster Magistrates' Court on Saturday morning and was remanded in custody to appear at the Old Bailey on 16 March.

Ms Patel’s comments came as the government planned a crackdown on protests, including new requirements for notifying police and keeping noise low. One minister complained of the “huge inconvenience” caused by Extinction Rebellion demonstrations, while Ms Patel has criticised Black Lives Matter events as “dreadful”.

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