Met Police 'acted appropriately' at Sarah Everard vigil says report
The investigation admitted the vigil had turned into “a public relations disaster” for the force
Met Police officers “acted appropriately” at the vigil to commemorate Sarah Everard on Clapham Common, a report has found, writes Kit Heren… The review by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMIC), published on Tuesday (March 30) said that the force “acted appropriately in taking as its starting point the desire to achieve consistency in the policing of mass gatherings during lockdown.” But it noted that “many will conclude [the vigil] was a public relations disaster” for the Met, after images and reports surfaced of heavy-handed policing at the event on the evening of March 13.
The body of Sarah Everard, 33, was found several days after she went missing in London. Women’s rights organisation Reclaim These Streets tried to organise a peaceful vigil in her memory but Scotland Yard blocked this on the grounds that a gathering would break lockdown rules.
The vigil went ahead despite this. The event was largely peaceful but police were criticised when images of women being handcuffed and dealt with forcefully were published online.
The report said officers could have been more “conciliatory” and outlined the four factors it said contributed ot the ugly scenes. Some decisions on the day came in for “minor” criticism in the report, although these were “within the bounds” of things that could happen normally in public order situations.
Sarah Everard The report also singled out the complexity of the law as a factor and called on MPs to make police officers’ lives easier by making Covid-19 rules easier to interpret.
“Increasingly, senior police officers are required to demonstrate an advanced understanding of human rights law,” the report said. “Where police officers are faced with making finely-balanced decisions in difficult circumstances, it is essential that the law is clear.” The third factor was the “malign actions” of some of the people at the vigil, the report said – although “the vast majority” of attendees were “dignified and respectful”. The final issue was the “the chorus of those condemning the Metropolitan Police, and calling for the resignation of the Commissioner, within hours of the arrests – and presumably, with a very limited understanding of what had happened,” the HMIC said.
Assistant Commissioner Louisa Rolfe said: “We are outraged at Sarah’s death which has left us even more determined to tackle violence against women and girls.
“This report makes clear the difficult circumstances officers faced as a peaceful vigil became a hostile rally. We must always be consistent in our policing of public events. “I am extremely proud of the restraint, compassion and professionalism officers showed during a fast-moving and challenging situation.
“They spent considerable time engaging, explaining and encouraging before considering any enforcement action. “Officers acted thoughtfully, sensibly and proportionately throughout the operation with the best interests of Londoners at heart given we remain in a public health crisis. “We welcome the considered scrutiny of this event which highlights how a snapshot may not represent the full context of the challenges police face.”
Reclaim These Streets hit out at what it called “institutional sexism in the force” in the wake of the HMIC report. Organisers added in a statement on Tuesday: “We anticipated a fair and balanced inquiry and instead are being told not to believe what we saw and heard reported two weeks ago. This inquiry is not representative of our experience with senior Met officials.”
The HMIC had a responsibility to begin rebuilding the trust between women and girls across the capital and the Metropolitan Police. The disregard for us as women organisers in the report [makes] clear there is still institutional sexism running through the force.” Serving police officer PC Wayne Couzens has been charged with Sarah’s kidnapping and murder.
He is scheduled to stand trial later at the Old Bailey later this year.