Metropolitan Police officers “acted appropriately” at the Clapham Common vigil held in Sarah Everard’s memory, a detailed review has found.
The inspectorate found that:
– police officers at the vigil did their best to peacefully disperse the crowd
– police officers remained calm and professional when subjected to abuse and
– police officers did not act inappropriately or in a heavy-handed manner.
The vigil for the marketing executive, whose body was found a week after she went missing in London, was held on Saturday 13th March despite police warning it would breach COVID lockdown regulations.
‘Reclaim These Streets’ had intended on holding a peaceful vigil following the tragic death of Sarah Everard.
Despite the official vigil being cancelled, hundreds of peaceful mourners still turned up at the Common to pay their respects to Ms Everard and to show their solidarity with Ms Everard’s family and friends.
The Met had initially taken a ‘stand-off’ approach that allowed the peaceful mourners to pay their respects as they laid flowers and left other tributes.
But at around 18:00 hours, the mood changed as some individuals at the event took to the bandstand and started to address the crowd, which attracted more people to attend the gathering.
As the Met could no longer ensure the crowd’s safety, since there was no longer any social distancing, officers moved forward and for several hours tried to engage with the individuals who were making speeches.
During the unrest that followed, one female police officer was assaulted after allegedly being told that she was a ‘disgrace to females’ and a ‘murderer’.
Included in the gathering around the tightly packed bandstand, were members of a group who refer to themselves as ‘Sisters Uncut’.
On 13th March, they had tweeted: ‘Meet at 6pm at the bandstand on Clapham Common. Bring flowers, candles, artwork, your sadness, banners, tissues, an unbrella, a face mask, and of course, all your rage’.
Speaking after the event, Met Police Assistant Commissioner Helen Ball said:
“Today, for over six hours, hundreds of people came to lay flowers and pay their respects to Sarah in Clapham Common in a safe and lawful way.
“Around 6pm, more people began to gather close to the bandstand within the Common.
“Some started to make speeches from the bandstand. These speeches then attracted more people to gather closer together.
“At this point, officers on the ground were faced with a very difficult decision. Hundreds of people were packed tightly together, posing a very real risk of easily transmitting Covid-19.
“Police must act for people’s safety, this is the only responsible thing to do. The pandemic is not over and gatherings of people from right across London and beyond, are still not safe.
“Those who gathered were spoken to by officers on a number of occasions and over an extended period of time.
“We repeatedly encouraged those who were there to comply with the law and leave. Regrettably, a small minority of people began chanting at officers, pushing and throwing items”.
During the troubles which occurred after 6pm, one female police officer was assaulted after being punched in the face and at least one police vehicle was damaged.
The following day, partial clips of the trouble, which started to flare up after 18:00 hours, were shared by some sections of the mainstream media, which showed officers wrangling with some members of the tightly packed crowd that had gathered around the bandstand.
Four people were arrested, and there are reports that ’26’ police officers were injured.
Sir Thomas Winsor, Her Majesty’s 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.”
Matt Parr, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, who led the inspection team said:
“On behalf of everyone who worked on this inspection, I send our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of Sarah Everard, who have suffered an unimaginable tragedy.
“Amidst a heightened public debate on women’s safety, and during an unprecedented pandemic, the Metropolitan Police faced a complex and sensitive policing challenge at Clapham Common.
“Condemnation of the Met’s actions within mere hours of the vigil – including from people in positions of responsibility – 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.
“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.”
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