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Met Police Officers "Did Not Act Inappropriately” At Sarah Everard Vigil, Report Finds

7 min read

A report into policing at a vigil for Sarah Everard, which has been criticised as disproportionate, found officers "did not act inappropriately or in a heavy-handed manner".

The review by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary said the Metropolitan Police acted “lawfully, sensitively and proportionately… in the face of severe provocation” at the event on Clapham Common earlier this month.

It also found the force was "justified" when it decided the risk of Covid-19 transmission were "too great to ignore” at the event to mark the death of 33-year-old Everard.

But the original organisers of the vigil, Reclaim These Streets, called the report "disappointing" and said it demonstrated "institutional sexism running through the force".

Sir Thomas Winsor, the Chief Inspector of Constabulary, said: "My thoughts are with Sarah Everard's family and friends, who are suffering the most unthinkable pain.

"The commissions I received from the Home Secretary and the Mayor of London to inspect the Metropolitan Police's handling of the vigil for Sarah Everard on Clapham Common have been fulfilled.

“This has been a rapid but detailed inspection. Public confidence in the police is critical.

“It is therefore important that there has been an independent, objective, evidence-based inspection to provide public reassurance, which we provide today.

"Our civilian police model is precious. Officers are our fellow citizens, invested by the community to keep the community safe.

“They rely upon and are entitled to receive public support when they act lawfully, sensitively and proportionately; in this case, in the face of severe provocation and in very difficult circumstances, they did just that."

There had been criticism after images showed women being arrested by officers at the event, with allegations the police were heavy-handed in their approach to dealing with the vigil.

But Matt Parr, who led the inspection team for HMICFRS, said the Met “faced a complex and sensitive policing challenge”, and condemnation of their actions “was unwarranted, showed a lack of respect for public servants facing a complex situation, and undermined public confidence in policing based on very limited evidence”.

He added: "After reviewing a huge body of evidence - rather than a snapshot on social media - we found that there are some things the Met could have done better, but we saw nothing to suggest police officers acted in anything but a measured and proportionate way in challenging circumstances.

"A minute's silence was held for Sarah at 6pm, after which a peaceful and sombre vigil turned into something else - a rally with dense crowds and little or no social distancing.

"We concluded that the Met was right to recognise the need to be seen to be consistent in its policing of all events and gatherings.

"They were, therefore, right to enforce the regulations - having gone to some lengths to persuade people to disperse."

In a statement Reclaim These Streets said the Met’s “antagonistic actions around the vigil forced us to cancel the event, which then in turn, caused a greater number of people to attend due to their publicity”.

They added: "Instead of taking responsibility for their actions, The Metropolitan Police is standing behind claims that we were inexperienced organisers, despite some of us being elected officials and others having a decade long track record of working with police and councils on events.

“We anticipated a fair and balanced inquiry and are instead 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 is clear there is still institutional sexism running through the force."

Local Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy said in response: “This report will offer little reassurance to my constituents, those who attended the vigil and others across the country who watched video footage of the disgraceful scenes.

“It may well heighten the impression that the police are not listening to women, or respecting the right to protest.

“Far from offering reassurance to the public, it is only likely to further diminish public confidence. I look forward to further reviews.”

But Ken Marsh, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, which represents officers, said: "The outcome of this report comes as no surprise.

“We said on the very evening that politicians of all parties should make themselves aware of all the facts before rushing to judgment and making statements. But these armchair critics on their Saturday night sofas did not.

"The knee-jerk commentary from politicians of all parties - who as the report states were reacting to a snapshot on social media rather than the facts - has made the already difficult job of our colleagues in London incredibly harder.

“And more dangerous. And for that these people should be ashamed.”

London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan hit back, saying it is his “job to stand up on behalf of Londoners” after there had been “such widespread public dismay”.

In a statement he said: "The tragic abduction and death of Sarah Everard has rightly caused huge anger and my thoughts and prayers remain with her family and loved ones.

"I completely understand why women, girls and allies wanted to hold a vigil to remember Sarah at Clapham Common and show solidarity with all women who have been subjected to violence at the hands of men.

"While I do not have operational control over the police, I called for the government and MPS to find a way to allow the vigil to happen legally and safely in advance of Saturday 13 March, and was provided with assurances that the MPS would police it sensitively.

"It is my job to stand up on behalf of Londoners and ensure that there is effective scrutiny of the Metropolitan Police - particularly in the light of such widespread public dismay.”

He added: "I accept the HMICFRS report, but it is clear that trust and confidence of women and girls in the police and criminal justice system is far from adequate.

“The events of the weekend of 13/14 March have done further damage to this and show that much more needs to be done."

However his Conservative rival in May’s London mayoral election, Shaun Bailey, said Khan had "serious questions" to answer over his response to the Sarah Everard vigil.

"First of all, why did he immediately throw the police under a bus without knowing the full story behind the events?” he added.

"Why did he refuse to take responsibility for the event and policing at Clapham Common, despite being in charge of policing in London?"

Met police assistant commissioner Louisa Rolfe said: "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 with the best interests of Londoners at heart given we remain in a public health crisis."

But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said he remained concerned about the events at Clapham Common, saying: "We must never lose sight of why people came to Clapham and to many places across the country that night.

“Not only to draw attention to the horrendous killing of Sarah Everard and the grief, but also to make the wider point that many, many women and girls feel that they are harassed and abused on almost a daily basis in public and in the street.

"So we must never lose sight of that wider point."

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