London Metropolitan Police under pressure over clashes at Sarah Everard vigil
By Karla Adam,
Hannah Mckay Reuters
LONDON — The Metropolitan Police faced growing pressure Sunday to explain their actions after clashing with attendees at a vigil for a woman allegedly slain by one of their officers.
The calls for accountability were heightened by widely shared images of a woman at the event Saturday being pinned to the ground and handcuffed by male officers. One photo appears to show Patsy Stevenson shouting as male officers hold her hands behind her back.
Stevenson was among thousands who attended the vigil Saturday in London’s Clapham Common for Sarah Everard, the 33-year-old marketing executive whose kidnap and killing has stunned the nation.
Wayne Couzens, a 48-year-old officer who joined the force in 2018, has been charged in Everard’s death.
With England still in lockdown, police had urged people to stay away from the planned vigil. Organizers canceled the event after talks with police about its legality and safety broke down. But people went anyway.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick, facing calls to step down from the most powerful policing position in Britain, said Sunday she was not considering resigning.
“We’re still in a pandemic, unlawful gatherings are unlawful gatherings, officers have to take action if people are putting themselves massively at risk,” she told reporters.
But many questioned the way police handled the event as the photos of officers handcuffing Stevenson went viral. Home Office minister Victoria Atkins was quizzed about the images on Sunday morning talk shows.
“You’ll be very familiar with the picture that has been shown absolutely everywhere. What did you think when you saw it?” asked the BBC’s Andrew Marr.
“I found it very upsetting, of course,” Atkins said.
Atkins told Sky’s Sophie Ridge show that the photograph was “something that the police will have to explain in their report to the Home Secretary.”
The police on Sunday defended their handling of the event.
“We absolutely did not want to be in a position where enforcement action was necessary,” assistant police commissioner Helen Ball said. “But we were placed in this position because of the overriding need to protect people’s safety.”
“Hundreds of people were packed tightly together, posing a very real risk of easily transmitting Covid-19,” she said. She said “a small minority of people began chanting at officers, pushing and throwing items.”
Among the thousands who attended the vigil peacefully — including Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, who left flowers — a Post reporter saw a small group of people hurling insults and objects at the police. One person smashed the rear window of a police van. Many shouted “arrest your own” and “shame on you.”
As scenes of tussles from the vigil circulated online, politicians from across the political spectrum criticized police actions.
Home Secretary Priti Patel called the scenes at the vigil “upsetting” and said she had requested a full police report on the day’s developments. London Mayor Sadiq Khan said police chiefs had failed to provide him with a satisfactory explanation of events and called for an independent investigation.
Police said four people were arrested for “public order offences and for breaches of the Health Protection Regulations.”
Liberal Democrat party leader Ed Davey was among those who called on the police commissioner to resign. Others said what’s needed is a more serious look at how to handle demonstrations during a pandemic.
Jess Phillips, the opposition Labour Party’s point person on domestic violence, said there were “many missed opportunities throughout the day for police to work with organizers to create a completely safe vigil so that people could go and have a moment of sorrow and a moment of resistance.”
Everard’s death has prompted a national outpouring of grief and anger. She was last seen at at 9:30 p.m. on March 3, walking home from a friend’s house in south London. Her body was later found in woods in Kent.
Couzens has been charged with kidnap and murder in her death. For the past year, his main job was patrolling diplomatic premises, mainly embassies. He previously held posts at Downing Street and the Palace of Westminster.
Women have shared stories online about their experiences feeling scared when walking alone at night, and are asking why more isn’t being done to tackle violence against women.
Stevenson said she attended the vigil to support women who “cannot walk down the streets themselves because of the fear of men.”
She called the police actions “disgraceful.”
“Before then, it was just a peaceful protest,” she told the left-wing website Counterfire. “I was arrested by police for standing there. I wasn’t doing anything. They threw me to the floor. They have pictures of me on the floor being arrested. And I’m 5 foot 2 and I weigh nothing.”
Despite the cancellation, she said, people were going to attend, “because people were angry.”