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Minister Refuses To Support Sarah Everard Vigil As Police Threaten Organisers With £30,000 Fine

Minister Refuses To Support Sarah Everard Vigil As Police Threaten Organisers With £30,000 Fine
5 min read

A government minister this morning refused to support a planned vigil for Sarah Everard at the weekend after police have threatened organisers with legal action.

The Reclaim These Streets march, a vigil planned for Saturday evening on Clapham Common, South London, near where Sarah Everard was last seen, had initially received support from the local council and Met Police. 

But in a statement on Thursday evening, organisers claimed the Met had since withdrawn this support and were threatening legal action, including potential costs of over £30,000. 

Asked this morning if the event should go ahead, universities minister Michelle Donelan said she understood why people wanted to participate, but refused to support the vigil, insisting public safety must come first.

“This is a really emotional time for everybody, and particularly those that live in the community from where Sarah was from,” Donelan told Sky News. 

“I can understand why people want to participate in a vigil, to show their respects and commemorate.”

“However, we are in the middle of a pandemic. We do have restrictions in place to protect public safety and reduce pressure on the NHS. 

Donelan continued: “I know that this is a matter that the police are dealing with, and potentially the courts, and I'm sure that they will do that in a sensitive manner.”

Organisers have insisted that the event will be Covid secure, stating that people will be told to stay still rather than march, and stand apart in the open park space to allow for social distincing. 

But Donelan appeared to make no exception for the vigil, even when pressed on whether it was particularly important for women to support the event.

“As a woman I also recognise the fact that we're in a global pandemic and restrictions are in place to safeguard the lives of women and men alike," she said. 

The Reclaim These Streets event was organised in the wake of the disappearance of 33-year-old Sarah Everard last week as a way to "channel the collective grief, outrage and sadness in our community".

A serving Met Police Officer is currently being held in custody after being arrested on suspicion of murder and kidnapping. 

Under national lockdown restrictions, it is a criminal offence to organise a gathering of more than 30 people in a public outdoor place, but police initially allowed an exception for the Sarah Everard vigil planned for Saturday.

“When we initially proposed the event, we proactively reached out to Lambeth Council and Metropolitan Police to ensure that the event could safely and legally take place,” the organisers said in a statement on Thursday. 

"After initially receiving a positive response, we continued to plan and promote the event and continued to update the Council and Police.

"The Metropolitan Police said that they were 'trying to navigate a way through' and that they were 'currently developing a local policing plan' to allow the vigil to take place and to enable them to 'develop an appropriate and proportionate local response' to the event."

This support was later withdrawn, however, and those behind the March said they could be liable for £30,000 in costs if they lose their legal challenge against the decision.

A crowdfunding page to cover these costs hit its target within just over an hour of going live on Thursday evening, with the Reclaim These Streets campaigners stating they would donate the sum to a woman’s charity if their challenge was successful.

Several MPs have expressed their support for the event, including chair of the joint committee on human rights Harriet Harman, who has written to the Met Police arguing that it would be unlawful to halt the vigil. 

“Parliament has not specifically acted to constrain the right to demonstrate, so long as social distancing is observed this vigil will be perfectly lawful,” she said in the letter.

Harman has said she will attend the vigil, alongside fellow Labour MPs Bell Ribeiro-Addy and Helen Hayes. 

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