There is growing outrage over how the Metropolitan Police handled a vigil in memory of Sarah Everard.
Everard, 33 and a marketing executive, disappeared after leaving a friend’s house in Clapham on 3 March. Wayne Couzens, a 48-year old serving Metropolitan Police officer was arrested on suspicion of her murder and appeared in court on Saturday. Human remains of Sarah Everard were found by police in a woodland area in Kent.
On Saturday evening, hundreds of people gathered on Clapham Common to pay tribute to Ms Everad. The vigil had officially been called off earlier in the day after organisers said that the police force had failed to ‘constructively engage’ on how the remembrance could take place in a Covid-secure way. However, many hundreds of people still felt it important to pay their respects to Everard, whose death has ignited a debate over woman’s safety.
In recent days, many people have spoken out about violence against women and highlighted that while shocking, violence against women is not new and many women have long feared going out alone at night. Around the world, 137 women are killed by a member of their family every day according to data from the United Nations. In the UK, a woman is killed by a man every three days.
At the vigil on Saturday evening, members of the people mourned Sarah Everard and called for changes in order to keep others safe. In ‘disturbing’ scenes during the vigil, police officers were seen handcuffing and leading women away from the event. Scenes shared on social media have shown male officers grabbing and pushing some women. Pictures have also emerged of police officers restraining women on the ground.
The scenes have prompted widespread concern, anger and outrage and the Government has demanded that the police force explain its handling of the event.
Speaking in the early hours of Sunday morning, the Metropolitan Police’s Assistant Commissioner Helen Ball said;
“Around 6pm, more people began to gather close to the bandstand within the Common. Some started to make speeches from the bandstand. These speeches then attracted more people to gather closer together.
“At this point, officers on the ground were faced with a very difficult decision. Hundreds of people were packed tightly together, posing a very real risk of easily transmitting Covid-19.
“Police must act for people’s safety, this is the only responsible thing to do. The pandemic is not over and gatherings of people from right across London and beyond, are still not safe.”
It was added that four arrests were made for public order offences and for breaches of coronavirus regulations. Ms Ball added, “We absolutely did not want to be in a position where enforcement action was necessary. But we were placed in this position because of the overriding need to protect people’s safety.”
Serious questions are being asked about the actions of the police force and Home Secretary Priti Patel has requested a report on what happened. Under current Coronavirus restrictions, large gatherings are not permitted, however, many feel the actions of the police in responding to the gathering, which attempted to highlight an important issue, were disproportionate and wrong.
In a tweet on Saturday evening, Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer said;
The scenes in Clapham this evening are deeply disturbing. 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.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is yet to publicly comment on the scenes of Saturday evening. Ahead of the events, Mr Johnson said “I will do everything I can to make sure the streets are safe and ensure women and girls do not face harassment or abuse.”
Earlier in the week during a debate to mark International Women’s Day, Shadow Minister for Domestic Violence Jess Phillips read out in Parliament the names of woman killed in the UK where a man has been charged or convicted. Speaking to Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday regarding the vigil, Phillips criticised the police for their actions, saying;
“Yesterday there were, oh gosh, so many missed opportunities throughout the day for police to work with organisers to create a completely safe vigil so that people could go and have a moment of sorrow and a moment of 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.”
Liberal Democrats Leader Sir Ed Davey has described the events as “a complete abject tactical and moral failure on the part of the Police” in a letter to the Commissioner Cressida Dick and called on her to consider her leadership position of the force.
A number of vigils took place across the country, not just in London – while others shared messages on social media.
While pressure is mounting on the police, questions are also being asked more widely, with urgent action being sought to tackle violence against women.