The Metropolitan Police’s handling of a vigil in south London to mourn Sarah Everard has been widely criticised across the political spectrum.
Home Secretary Priti Patel has asked the Met for a report on what happened, while London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he was “urgently seeking an explanation” from Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick.
Officers were seen handcuffing and leading women away from the event.
Police said four arrests were made at the vigil to “protect people’s safety”.
Several hundred people gathered on Clapham Common on Saturday evening to pay tribute to 33-year-old – whose death has prompted a public debate over women’s safety – despite Covid restrictions.
The official vigil had been called off earlier in the day after organisers said the force had failed to “constructively engage” on how it could be held in a Covid-secure way.
One video posted online showed officers removing women who were standing by the bandstand.
Cries of “shame on you” and “let them go” could be heard from onlookers. The video showed them being put in a police van and driven away.
Jamie Klingler, from Reclaim These Streets, which had been organising the official vigil, said the event would have been “a lot safer” if it had been held officially, adding the group had 50 stewards who were “trained and ready to go”.
“We told the Met that it was going to be worse if we didn’t have the organisation that we already had planned that was Covid-safe,” she said.
The group added in a statement that it was “deeply saddened and angered” by the police’s actions and criticised officers for “physically manhandling women at a vigil against male violence”.
“It is their responsibility to protect public order, public health and the right to protest – they failed tonight on all accounts,” the group added in a statement.
The Met said it was the “only responsible thing” for them to do to ensure public safety.
The force added that a review will be carried out to see if “lessons can be learned”.
image captionMany who gathered at Clapham Common held signs protesting violence against women
Politicians from across the political spectrum have criticised the Met’s response to the vigil.
Home Office minister Victoria Atkins told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show the scenes were “incredibly upsetting”, adding that it was “right” the force “explain their actions – both to the democratically elected politicians and the public”.
She told Sky News the government hopes to be “hearing explanations” from Dame Cressida “in the hours and days to come”.
Asked whether the Met Police commissioner should leave her post, Ms Atkins added: “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 in policing the coronavirus pandemic more generally at the moment.”
Labour’s shadow domestic violence minister, Jess Phillips, said the force had “got it wrong at every single turn”.
She told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “There are a million ways that could have been organised, but the police put their foot down before they put their boot in and at every stage they made the wrong call.”
“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,” he tweeted.
Victims Commissioner for England and Wales Dame Vera Baird QC said there was no real prospect of police successfully intervening in the crowd in Clapham on Saturday night, describing the circling of the bandstand as “quasi military”.
She told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “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?”
image captionSarah Everard had been walking to her home in Brixton when she disappeared
Conservative MP Caroline Nokes, who chairs the Commons Women and Equalities Select Committee, said she was “truly shocked” at the scenes on Clapham Common.
“In this country we police by consent – not by trampling the tributes to a woman who was murdered and dragging other women to the ground. Badly misjudged by #metpolice,” Ms Nokes tweeted.
Met Assistant Commissioner Helen Ball said hundreds of people were “packed tightly together”, posing a risk of transmitting Covid-19.
“Police must act for people’s safety, this is the only responsible thing to do,” she said in a statement.
“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 over-riding need to protect people’s safety.”
image captionPolice stand in front of a crowd of people who turn on their phone torches as they gather in Clapham Common, south London
Earlier, Reclaim These Streets said they had cancelled the official vigil because the Met Police had failed to “constructively engage” with plans to hold it in a Covid-secure way.
The group asked people not to gather at Clapham Common because it could put them “legally at risk”.
Instead, it had urged mourners to light candles and shine other lights on their doorsteps at 21:30 GMT – to coincide with the time Ms Everard was last seen on 3 March.
image captionHundreds gathered at a memorial site in Clapham Common
image captionHundreds turn on their phone torches at the bandstand in Clapham Common after the official vigil for Sarah Everard was cancelled
Among those who took part in the doorstep vigil were Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his fiancée, Carrie Symonds, who lit a candle and placed it in front of No 10.
Earlier, Mr Johnson tweeted that he would “be thinking of her family and friends”, adding: “I will do everything I can to make sure the streets are safe.”
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted a picture of a candle in her home, which she said was “for Sarah”, while Wales’s First Minister Mark Drakeford encouraged people to “ignite a fire for change”.
The clashes occurred on Saturday evening, but people had visited the bandstand to lay flowers and pay their respects throughout the day.
The Duchess of Cambridge made a private visit on Saturday afternoon, and was seen pausing at the bandstand.
It is understood that she wanted to pay her respects to Ms Everard and her family.
image captionA candle is placed on the doorstep of 10 Downing Street
Earlier on Saturday, Met Police officer Wayne Couzens, 48, appeared at Westminster Magistrates’ Court charged with Ms Everard’s kidnap and murder.
The 33-year-old disappeared when walking home to Brixton from Clapham in south London on 3 March.
Her body was found in an area of woodland in Ashford, Kent, Westminster Magistrates Court heard.
Mr Couzens was remanded in custody to appear again at the Old Bailey on 16 March.
What are the rules on gatherings in England?
- Under the current lockdown rules two people can meet for recreation outside, which can include “coffee on a bench”
- From 29 March people will be allowed to meet outdoors, either with one other household or within the “rule of six”
- Police can break up illegal gatherings and issue fines of £10,000 to someone holding a gathering of more than 30 people
- During last year’s restrictions, when Black Lives Matter and anti-lockdown demonstrations took place, police took a hands-off approach to protests
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