Protesters Clash With Police at Sarah Everard Clapham Common Vigil
The Metropolitan Police has faced widespread criticism in the wake of its response to the vigil held at Clapham Common, south London, on Saturday. The vigil came following the murder of Sarah Everard, with footage circulating online showing police grappling with attendees before making a number of arrests for public order and COVID-19 lockdown breaches.
Mourners arrived throughout the day on Saturday at Clapham Common to pay their respects to Sarah Everard, †33, whose body was found in Kent a week after she had gone missing on her way home on the 3rd of March, having left a friend’s flat in Clapham. Those who arrived at Clapham Common to lay flowers at a makeshift memorial to Ms Everard included the Duchess of Cambridge, who, according to a royal source, remembered “what it is like to walk alone as a young woman in London”.
The vigil, officially organised by resistance collective Reclaim the Streets (RTS) in remembrance of Sarah Everard was called off after the Metropolitan Police raised concerns relating to the breaking of COVID-19 restrictions. Despite RTS encouraging people to attend “virtual gatherings” and “at-home vigils”, a large crowd arrived at the bandstand on Clapham Common on Saturday at around 18:00.
Sarah Everard’s body was found in Kent on the 10th of March. Metropolitan Police Officer Wayne Couzens was later arrested on the suspicion of her murder. Couzens, 48, who worked for the Met as a Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Officer, appeared at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Saturday morning charged with Ms Everard’s kidnap and murder.
Saturday’s vigil began peacefully but rising tensions and crowds prompted police to step in. As noted by the Assistant Commissioner for Professionalism in the Metropolitan Police Service Helen Ball, officers were faced with a “very difficult decision” as crowds became “packed tightly together, posing a real risk of easily transmitting COVID-19”. The Assistant Commissioner said it was “regrettable” that a “small minority of people began chanting at police officers, pushing and throwing items”. The ruckus led to the arrests of four people under public order and coronavirus regulation breaches, with footage of officers tackling attendees later going viral on the internet.
Dame Cressida Dick, Commissioner for the Metropolitan Police, defended the police response to the vigil, stating that the “really big crowd” forced a “really difficult call”. The Commissioner went on to criticise so-called “armchair” critics, saying:
“I don't think anybody should be sitting back in an armchair and saying ‘well that was done badly’ or ‘I would have done it differently’ without actually understanding what was going through their minds,”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “deeply concerned” by the scenes at Clapham Common, noting that:
“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,”
In the wake of the upheaval, Home Secretary Priti Patel has instructed the police watchdog HMIC to “conduct a lessons learned review into the policing of the event”. The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan criticised the police’s actions as “unacceptable”, calling for a “full independent investigation”. Shadow Minister for Domestic Violence Jess Phillips called the officers at Clapham Common “angry men”. The MP for Birmingham Yardley later said that there were “so many missed opportunities” for the police to work with organisers of the vigil and that the police had “undermined” the work of Constabularies in the West Midlands who had worked to build confidence with women.
A friend of Sarah Everard, writing for Spiked, condemned the vigil, stating that the “tragic death has been hijacked” and that the reaction “is not a tribute to her any more, it’s about something else.” The friend went on to ask the public to “let us grieve for our loved one,” noting that the public reaction has been “very touching” but the “misuse of it by those with an ‘agenda’ is not a comfort to us.”