Sarah Everard vigil: Cressida Dick must ‘explain’ police actions, as Home Office minister dodges question on Met chief’s position

‘I’m very keen that we don’t preempt report’

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
@ashcowburn
Sunday 14 March 2021 10:06
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Home Office minister dodges question on Met chief's position following vigil

Cressida Dick must “explain” police action at a vigil for Sarah Everard a Home Office minister has insisted, as she dodged questions over whether the Metropolitan Police commissioner should stand down.

It comes after Priti Patel, the home secretary, demanded a full report from the Met police after criticism from politicians of all stripes of “upsetting” and “deeply disturbing” scenes in Clapham Common on Saturday evening.

Four arrests were made and several individuals were forcibly pulled away while at least one young woman was restrained on the floor by two officers – leading to calls from some quarters for Ms Dick’s resignation.

Safeguarding minister Victoria Atkins insisted the Home Office was taking it “very seriously”, adding: “Which is why she [Ms Patel] has asked the Metropolitan Commissioner for a report on what has happened last night.”

Pressed on Sky News whether Ms Dick needed to step down, minister Victoria Atkins said: “I really, really want to support the home secretary in her request to have a report from Cressida.

“The police have got a tough job with policing the coronavirus pandemic more generally at the moment.”

She added: “Given how difficult last night was after what has been an incredibly upsetting week, I’m very keen that we don’t preempt that report and we give the Met Commissioner a chance to explain what happened last night.

Questioned again, Ms Atkins said: “The home secretary has asked for a report and I think that is appropriate — the police are operationally independent, but it’s right they explain their actions to the home secretary.”

In a separate interview Jess Phillips, the shadow minister for domestic violence, said there were "so many missed opportunities" by the police to work with organisers at the south London vigil "so that people could go and have a moment of sorrow and resistance against what is the experience of pretty much all women in the United Kingdom and around the world".

"They missed the opportunity at every turn until what we saw was a 5 ft 2 tall woman being pinned down with two men on her back," she added.

However, she did not call for Ms Dick to resign as the Met commissioner, saying: "I was coming here to talk about what needs to change in this one moment we have, it seems, where the politics and the views and wind is at our back as women who have been fighting for better for generations and I'm here talking about Cressida Dick.

"The reality is that I wish that I'd had the heavy hand of the law when I'd been sexually assaulted, I wish for every woman I've ever worked with that the heavy hand of the law had been there for them."

She continued: "The reality is if Cressida Dick stays or goes doesn't make women in this country more safe, and that's what I want to talk about."

Dame Vera Baird, the victims commissioner for England and Wales, added 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”.

She said :“Are they really improving the chances of Covid not spreading by putting their knees in the middle of the back of young women, and putting their hands in handcuffs? It didn’t seem to me to be the right thing to do.”

The London mayor Sadiq Khan said on Saturday evening 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.”

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