Sarah Everard vigil: what happened at Clapham Common - and why have Met Police been criticised?

Metropolitan police officer Dame Cressida Dick defended the actions of police officers

Monday, 15th March 2021, 11:04 am

The actions of the Metropolitan Police at a peaceful vigil to Sarah Everard have drawn criticism from politicians and the public.

In upsetting scenes officers clashed with crowds, predominantly made up of women, who were paying tribute to the 33-year-old who went missing while walking home from Clapham to Brixton.

The events drew criticism from across the political spectrum with Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs all criticising the polices handling of events.

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Patsy Stevenson was arrested by police at the vigil on March 13 (Getty Images)

Prime minister Boris Johnson is to meet with Dame Cressida Dick on Monday to discuss ways to protect women and girls from violence following the disappearance of Everard and events on Saturday. Many have called for Dick to resign.

Priti Patel, who will be at the meeting on Monday with Justice Secretary Robert Buckland and director of public prosecutions Max Hill, has asked the chief inspector of constabulary to conduct a “lessons learned” review into the police’s actions at the vigil.

What happened at the vigil?

Reclaim These Streets, an organisation set up following the disappearance of Sarah Everard, announced on Saturday that the vigil had been cancelled despite attempts to work with the police to ensure it could proceed safely.

Despite the cancellation, hundreds peacefully gathered at the Clapham Common bandstand, flowers, candles and tributes to Everard. In the afternoon the Duchess of Cambridge was spotted leaving a message at the bandstand.

At 6.20pm As night began to fall police officers took over the bandstand and attempted to disperse the gathering, witnesses claiming that they trampled flowers in the process.

At 7.21pm Lambeth Police tweeted: “The gathering at #ClaphamCommon is unsafe. Hundreds of people are tightly packed together in breach of the regulations and risking public health.

“We are urging people to go home and we thank those who have been engaging with officers and who are leaving.”

The force then formed a chain and began advancing on the crowd, forcing them closer together.

Male officers could be seen grabbing hold of several women before leading them away in handcuffs, to shouts and screams from onlookers.

In response, the crowd chanted “shame on you”, while during another confrontation a distressed woman could be heard telling officers “you’re supposed to protect us”.

In footage obtained by PA two officer were shown pushing an older woman who had fallen to her knees into the crowd.

Police have been heavily criticised for the heavy-handed nature of their policing.

How have people responded to the vigil?

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said the scenes were “unacceptable”, tweeting: “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.”

Mr Khan said that he was in contact with Met Commissioner Cressida Dick and was “urgently seeking an explanation”, while Liberal Democrats leader Sir Ed Davey called on her to resign.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer described the scenes as “deeply disturbing”.

“Women came together to mourn Sarah Everard – they should have been able to do so peacefully,” he tweeted.

“I share their anger and upset at how this has been handled. This was not the way to police this protest.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel says she has asked for a “full report” from the Metropolitan Police following the clash.

On Saturday night, she tweeted: “Some of the footage circulating online from the vigil in Clapham is upsetting.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “deeply concerned” by images from the vigil.

He added: “I have spoken with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner who has committed to reviewing how this was handled, and the Home Secretary has also commissioned HM Inspectorate of Constabulary to conduct a lessons learned review into the policing of the event.

“(On Monday) I will chair a meeting of the Government’s Crime and Justice Taskforce to look at what further action we need to take to protect women and ensure our streets are safe.

“The death of Sarah Everard must unite us in determination to drive out violence against women and girls and make every part of the criminal justice system work to protect and defend them.”

What has Dame Cressida Dick said?

Dame Cressida said what happened to Ms Everard made her “more determined, not less” to lead the organisation, and welcomed the Home Secretary’s request for an independent investigation into the events.

On Sunday night she said: “It’s worth saying, of course, I fully understand the strength of feeling I think as a woman hearing from people about their experiences in the past and what they feel about what happened to Sarah and what has been going on, I understand why so many people wanted to come and pay their respects and make a statement about this.

“Indeed, if it had been lawful, I’d have been there, I’d have been at a vigil. And six hours of yesterday was really calm and peaceful, very few police officers around, respectful, people laying flowers, not gathering, and a vigil that did not breach the regulations.

“Unfortunately, later on, we had a really big crowd that gathered, lots of speeches and quite rightly, as far as I can see, my team felt this is now an unlawful gathering which poses a considerable risk to people’s health according to the regulations.”