Women arrested at vigil for murdered Sarah Everard win Met Police payout and apology

Officers’ actions exposed ‘deeply embedded misogyny’ in force, says Patsy Stevenson, who was handcuffed and pinned down

Jane Dalton
Thursday 14 September 2023 05:05 BST
Patsy Stevenson: 'I am not an activist'

The Metropolitan Police are paying compensation to two women handcuffed and arrested at a vigil for Sarah Everard, murdered by police officer Wayne Couzens.

Scotland Yard chiefs have also apologised to the pair, Patsy Stevenson and Dania Al-Obeid, who sued the force over policing of the event, branded in an official review “heavy-handed” and “tone-deaf”.

Photographs of officers pinning Ms Stevenson to the ground at the Clapham Common vigil in March 2021 and restraining her prompted widespread anger, all the more intense because Ms Everard’s killer was a serving officer and the women had warned they would stage a peaceful gathering.

Police detained Patsy Stevenson as people gathered at a memorial site in London's Clapham Common

Couzens kidnapped, raped and murdered Ms Everard, 33, near Clapham Common, as she walked home on 3 March 2021. Her death set off protests about women’s safety around the UK.

The Met blocked attempts by campaign group Reclaim These Streets to hold a socially distanced vigil, warning Covid restrictions made all gatherings illegal. But the High Court later ruled this interpretation of regulations was unlawful as it overlooked rights of freedom of expression and assembly.

The size of the payouts has not been revealed, but lawyers for the women said they were “substantial”.

Ms Stevenson, who was handed a £200 fixed-penalty notice, said the events had exposed “deeply embedded misogyny” in the force and that she would “continue to stand in solidarity with all those fighting for truth, justice and accountability arising from racist, misogynistic or homophobic policing”.

In a review of the standards and internal culture of the force, Baroness Casey was scathing about the vigil’s policing, condemning the Met’s continued defensiveness and lack of humility.

“The Met failed to recognise the significance of the murder of Sarah Everard, why there was such anger and grief and their own role within that... This tendency to focus inwards… is a recurring feature of Met culture.”

Ms Stevenson, from Egham, Surrey, said it had felt important to push for accountability and justice.

People had gathered to pay their respects at the vigil on Clapham Common

“I’m glad that the police have recognised that we had a fundamental right to protest but since then this right has been further eroded and undermined by the Public Order Act,” she said.

“It is our politicians who have rewarded the Met with greater police powers despite the murder of Sarah Everard and the policing of the vigil, which has exposed deeply embedded misogyny within the Met Police internationally.”

Ms Al-Obeid said “badly let down” was an understatement. “I have felt abused, abandoned by the police prior to, during and post the vigil – I do not feel protected or safe with any police force.

“My experiences with the police tell me that they are just not the right organisation or institution that should be the frontline response to women who have experienced domestic or sexual violence.”

The lawyers have asked the Met how they are addressing concerns about “failings to adequately tackle violence against women and girls”.

The Met said they “tried to achieve a balance that recognised the rights of the public to protest and to express their grief and sadness, while also continuing to enforce the relevant Covid legislation”.

They added: “The actions of individual officers were found by His Majesty”s Inspectorate of Constabularies to have been appropriate.” They acted in good faith, the statement said.

“A protracted legal dispute is not in the interests of any party, least of all the complainants who we recognise have already experienced significant distress as a result of this incident.

“We are working every day to make London a city where women and girls can feel and be safe.”

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