Thousands gather around London to mourn Sarah Everard and condemn police handling of vigil

‘All women can identify with feeling uneasy, spooking yourself out when walking home after a night out,’ attendee says

Maya Oppenheim
Women’s Correspondent
Monday 15 March 2021 02:35 GMT
Crowds gather outside of Scotland Yard to mourn Sarah Everard

Tears rolled down cheeks into face masks as hundreds gathered around an island of flowers in Clapham Common to mourn Sarah Everard for a second consecutive day.

Women accompanied by daughters, sons, partners and husbands spent Mother’s Day laying flowers in memory of the 33-year-old marketing executive, who went missing after leaving a friend’s flat in Clapham in southwest London earlier in the month.

Ms Everard’s body was later found in woodland in Kent and a Metropolitan Police officer, Wayne Couzens, appeared at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Saturday charged with her kidnap and murder.

A placard with the words “We are exhausted” captured the mood in Clapham Common on Sunday, as people spoke of their shock at how police handled Saturday night’s events.

Dame Cressida Dick, the Met commissioner, has rebuffed calls for her resignation after officers forcibly removed women from the vigil. The force said it had to act to protect public health.

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Meanwhile, London’s mayor Sadiq Khan and Priti Patel, the home secretary, have asked for independent investigations into the Met’s response.

But anger has simmered regardless. Crowds also assembled outside Scotland Yard on Sunday afternoon before marching to Parliament Square to pay tribute to Ms Everard, call for an end to violence against women and condemn the police action.

Miwa Takabayashi, who had her 10-year-old son, five-year-old daughter and husband in tow, told The Independent she lived just minutes away from Clapham Common, which is near where Ms Everard was last seen.

Ms Takabayashi, a visual artist in her 40s, said: “I am upset by Sarah’s death for many different reasons. First of all, she is local, she is still young, she just looks like a normal girl. Secondly, it shows the bigger problem of violence against women and girls.

“If she was a big man, it may not have happened. But she is a small woman. Women are an easier target. My son has found it all upsetting.

“I feel angry at what happened with the police last night. While there is a legal issue with gatherings, the purpose of having laws is also about creating a good society. Yesterday the police should not have done that. I am upset and disappointed.”

Fiona Surges, a retired solicitor accompanied by her husband and son, said the death of Ms Everard had hit home because she had a daughter who is the same age.

“We have lived nearby in Balham for 35 years,” she added. “It happened on our doorstep. It shouldn’t make a difference but it does. When you have been walking down all the streets Sarah walked on before she disappeared for your whole life. When you have pushed a buggy with your children inside down them. We lit candles for Sarah last night.”

Victoria Smith said she had worked with Ms Everard in marketing and described her colleague as a “bundle of joy”. She told The Independent: “She was absolutely amazing. She was exactly how you see in her pictures. Smiling, positive, full of energy. The sweetest person.”

“As the days have gone by, it has become harder for me,” the mother-of-one, who is five months pregnant and lives in Surrey, added. “Being here today, I feel very strongly for Sarah’s family. I send all my love to them.”

Robyn Lofting, a 32-year-old who works for the NHS, said she thought the government was not doing enough to tackle inequality.

“All women can identify with feeling uneasy, spooking yourself out when walking home after a night out,” Ms Lofting, who is from nearby Tooting, added.

“I’m a shift worker so I walk home at odd times. I text to say when I am leaving to come home. I have a personal alarm, which makes a loud noise if you set it off, on my key ring. This highlights all the things you do to keep yourself safe.”

Ms Lofting said she wanted her baby son to grow up in a world where “people are equal”.

Protesters chanting outside Met headquarters at New Scotland Yard linked Saturday night’s clashes with government plans to crack down on protest, using new rules about inconvenience and noise. Labour announced on Sunday it would vote against the planned legislation.

Sarah Everard’s death is really terrible,” protester Lucy Furneaux, 26, said. “The police treatment of women last night was terrible. The policing bill the government are trying to pass this week further suppresses protest but the police can’t be more repressive than they already are. This is about so much more than just Sarah.”

Lucy Furneaux

Iona, a 27-year-old at the Scotland Yard march who asked that her surname not be used, added: “There is the distress of police brutality and the shocking historical legacy against people of colour and the working-class community. The police response to last night’s peaceful vigil was disproportionate. There is a systemic distrust of police officers.“

Dame Cressida told the BBC on Sunday there needed to be a “sober review” of the policing of Saturday night’s vigil but also warned that “unlawful gatherings are unlawful gatherings”, saying officers “have to take action if people are putting themselves massively at risk”.


Another protester, a retired nurse from north London who asked to remain anonymous, said Saturday’s scenes prompted her to attend Sunday’s event. She said: “I’m outraged at a woman’s death. I’m outraged she was abducted off the streets at 9pm. Women should be able to walk home in safety.

“I’m outraged by the police’s behaviour last night. I took the decision not to go when the organisers called it off but now I wish I had gone. I regret not going. Violence against women has been going on for too long. Nothing is changing. 118 women were killed in the last year.

“Boys need to be taught from a young age how to treat women better. I hear how some young boys talk about women on the bus. Something has to change.”

The Independent contacted the Metropolitan Police for comment.

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