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MP Says Local Police "Were Keen To Support" Sarah Everard Vigil But Were Overruled From Above

MP Says Local Police 'Were Keen To Support' Sarah Everard Vigil But Were Overruled From Above

Police withdrew support for the event in Clapham last week, despite initially engaging with organisers (Alamy)

5 min read

Streatham MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy has said local police were “very keen to show support” for the Sarah Everard vigil on Clapham Common on Saturday, but were overruled from above.

“As far as we knew at the beginning, all Lambeth Police wanted to know was further details so they could better assist," Riberio-Addy, whose constituency includes the park where Saturday's scenes took place, told PoliticsHome. 

"They were working with Lambeth Council and the council were talking about what they could provide."

But ahead of Saturday's vigil, with government refusing to support the event, conversations with local police broke down. 

“Something happened and all of a sudden there was no support, and the organisers found themselves in court seeking a judicial review,” Riberio-Addy said. 

“I think the local police were very keen to show support given the sensitivities around the case and the perpetrator. They'd taken extra measures like making sure that more female police officers were on hand.

“The local police had a good idea of what the community's mood was and were en route to make sure [the vigil] worked.”

Ahead of Saturday's event, the Guardian revealed that the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) told forces across England and Wales that they could not waive lockdown guidance banning gatherings for such events.

In a letter to local forces, the NPCC added that they had come to the decision following discussions with policing minister Kit Malthouse, who was said to be"supportive" of their view.

The Met Police attracted heavy criticism last week after it refused to back the Reclaim These Streets vigil for Sarah Everard at Clapham Common, despite initially engaging with organisers.

Those behind the event had attempted to obtain an “interim declaration” from the High Court stating that any ban on outdoor gatherings under coronavirus regulations was “subject to the right to protest”.

The event was cancelled after their challenge was unsuccessful, with those behind the event blaming a lack of “constructive engagement” from the Met Police.

Hundreds of people turned up at Clapham Common regardless, resulting in tense scenes between police and attendees.

Many have expressed anger at the force’s “heavy-handed” tactics after footage showing officers forcibly detaining female attendees was shared widely on social media.

Patsy Stevenson, a Physics student at Royal Holloway, University of London, was among thsoe arrested at the event, and images of her being held down by police officers were shared widely on social media.

“I was arrested by police for standing there. I wasn't doing anything," she told online publication Counterfire.

“And they threw me to the floor, they have pictures of me on the floor being arrested, and I'm five foot two, I weigh nothing, and several police are on my back trying to arrest me.”

Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick has resisted calls for her resignation following the backlash, but now faces both an internal investigation and another by the police watchdog.

Speaking on Monday, she said: "I wouldn't have wanted to see a vigil in memory of Sarah, end with those scenes. Indeed, if it had been lawful, I'd have been there. I would have been at a vigil."

But she also defended the police tactics at the event. “This is fiendishly difficult policing, but I'm sure for the people who wanted to express their feelings, that was a difficult situation for them and that's why it needs a cold light of day, sober, review, and I think we're all agreed on that,” she said.

Boris Johnson has insisted he has "full confidence" in Dick amid the backlash, echoing her sentiments that the police had a "very difficult job" when it comes to enforcing lockdown restrictions. 

But, responding to Saturday's scenes, national vice chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales Che Donald said the government’s “mixed messages” on the legality of vigils had “added to the escalation of events on Saturday”.

“Policing during lockdown is a no-win situation for frontline police officers trying to protect the public, they are damned if they do take action and damned if they don’t,” he told the PA news agency on Monday.

He added: “Ultimately, frontline officers have become pawns in a political situation.”

“There is a need to reiterate the call for clarity around Covid-19 regulations to avoid further confusion over laws and rules when lockdown measures are lifted."

The National Police Chief's Council (NPCC) is expected to meet on Monday to discuss the issue of violence against women in the wake of Sarah Everard's case. 

“We hear the outpouring of grief and anger from women because of their experiences of violence, abuse or harassment and the fear that is part of their lives.  No woman should feel unsafe – at home or on the streets - but far too many do," Martin Hetwitt, NPCC chair, said in a staement on Sunday.

“Tomorrow I will bring all chief constables together to discuss what more we can do to help protect women from male violence.  

"We will particularly focus on the role the police can play in the street harassment that’s far too common and in improving outcomes for women who report violence and abuse."

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