Priti Patel agrees with claim that Sarah Everard vigil was ‘hijacked’ by extremists

Home secretary says peaceful vigil turned into ‘pretty ugly scenes’

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Monday 15 March 2021 20:19 GMT
Sarah Everard vigil 'hijacked' by anti-police protesters, says Tory MP

Home secretary Priti Patel has controversially agreed with Conservative MPs who claimed that Saturday’s vigil for murder victim Sarah Everard was “hijacked” by anti-police extremists.

In an emotionally-charged debate, the House of Commons heard anger from MPs over the police use of force on women who went to Clapham Common to pay their respects to the marketing executive, who went missing as she walked to her nearby home earlier this month.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey repeated his call for Metropolitan Police commissioner Cressida Dick to resign after “utterly disgraceful” scenes of women being forced to the ground, restrained and arrested.

But former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith claimed that police had themselves been threatened and manhandled by the crowd, while backbencher Fay Jones claimed that the vigil was “hijacked by those who would seek to defund the police and destabilise our society”.

Ms Patel said Ms Jones was “absolutely right” and said that she had made “a very, very important point that a peaceful vigil turned into some pretty ugly scenes”.

Read more:

But a spokeswoman for campaign group Sisters Uncut, which supported Saturday’s vigil, responded angrily, telling The Independent: “Women came to Clapham Common to grieve the death of a woman who never made it home safe, and to express our collective grief and rage at the levels of violence against women in our society.

“The women who went to Clapham Common were met with Met police officers who grabbed, manhandled and beat them up. There is live footage that we can all see of how the police escalated the event to violence.

“Police violence towards women on a Saturday shows an institution drunk with power, who should not be given more powers in the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill.”

In an apparent indication that she expects inquiries by the Metropolitan Police and HM inspector of constabulary into Saturday’s events to provide justification for police actions, Ms Patel urged MPs to await their verdicts before calling for resignations.

She confirmed she was “in touch” with Dick on Friday and throughout the weekend and had “extensive discussions in terms of planning and preparation for the vigil”, during which she made clear that it was “absolutely right” for local people to be able to lay flowers at Clapham Common.

But she insisted that the Met was “operationally independent” in deciding the best way to police the event. And she said she found the scenes that played out on Saturday “distressing and upsetting”.

Her comments came after prime minister Boris Johnson said he had “full confidence” in Dame Cressida.

Speaking during a visit to Coventry, the prime minister said he was “very concerned” over images broadcast from Saturday’s vigil, but added: “The police do have a very, very difficult job. But there’s no question that the scenes that we saw were very distressing and so it is right that Tom Winsor, the inspector of constabulary, should do a full report into it.

“I think people have got to have confidence in the police and Tom’s going to look at that.”

Mr Johnson was chairing a crisis meeting of the government’s crime and justice taskforce on Monday evening to discuss the protection of women and girls with Dick, Patel, justice secretary Robert Buckland and director of public prosecutions Max Hill.

Brecon and Radnorshire MP Ms Jones told the Commons: “I’m also shocked that what started as a peaceful and important vigil turned into a protest with photographs showing ACAB signs – which stands for All Cops Are Bastards.

“I’m concerned that a young woman’s murder could be hijacked by those who would seek to defund the police and destabilise our society, making it even harder for women to come forward and report assaults.”

And Sir Iain told the Commons that while some of the actions on Saturday night were “shameful”,  politicians should wait for “all the evidence” before condemning police.

“I was contacted by a female police officer today to tell me of what happened to her on that night,” said the former Tory leader. “She was threatened, she was told that she should have been murdered, not Sarah Everard, and that she was manhandled.

“I simply say on all sides we should be dialling this down, not trying to raise the temperature by calling for resignations.”

Ms Patel said Ms Jones was “absolutely right” to urge the government to press ahead with its police bill, which alongside measures to increase the time spent in prison by serious sexual offenders includes provisions to clamp down on protest.

And she told MPs: “She’s made a very, very important point that a peaceful vigil on Saturday, turned into some pretty ugly scenes.

“So we’ll wait for the report, and there is no question that where there are lessons to be learned, they will be learned. 

“And of course where individuals were acting inappropriately in the way in which she has said, obviously that will be subject to some consideration too.”

Ms Patel said Sir Iain’s point was “well made”, saying that she had been contacted by many police officers reporting similar experiences.

She said that MPs should not prejudge the reports of the investigations into Saturday’s events.

Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy was among many MPs denouncing the handling of the vigil, telling the Commons: “The police’s high-handed approach got the balance between public safety and the right to protest completely wrong.”

DUP MP Ian Paisley said “every ingredient of good policing” was “absent” from Clapham Common on Saturday.

“What on earth happened to police discretion?” he asked. “What on earth happened to proportionality, to flexibility, to empathy, to any sense of self-awareness given the circumstances that surround it – that hellish murder?

“The defining image that will stick in the collective mind of Britain will be Patsy Stevenson being almost sat upon by three police officers whilst being detained. I must say, if I saw one of my adult daughters being treated that way I would find it impossible to contain my anger in terms of what happened.”

Ex-Supreme Court judge Lord Sumption accused ministers of “humbug” in trying to pin responsibility on the police.

He said the Met was placed in “an impossible situation”, adding: “The problem lies in the framing of the regulations – and this was a deliberate decision made by the home secretary, who objected to demonstrations or protests last year.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in