A firefighter has apologised to their Metropolitan Police colleagues after the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) condemned the force following the scenes which unfolded on Clapham Common last weekend.
‘Reclaim These Streets’ had intended on holding a candlelit vigil following the tragic death of Sarah Everard whose body was found in woodland several days after she went missing.
Wayne Couzens, a former Civil Nuclear Constabulary (CNC) officer who transferred to the Met two years ago, has been charged with Ms Everard’s abduction and murder. He is currently in prison awaiting trial.
On Friday 12th March, liaison officers from the Met had spoken to the organisers of the ‘Reclaim These Streets’ vigil and, due to current Covid restrictions that the Government have put in place, asked them not to go ahead with the event over their concerns regarding the spread of Covid.
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, 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.
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; however, these reports have no been confirmed by the Met.
The Fire Brigades Union National Women’s Committee, having perhaps seen the clips which were being circulated in the mainstream media, then issued a statement part of which said that they; ‘stood in solidarity with the women who were manhandled, pushed to the ground, separated from their friends and arrested by the police last night.
‘These draconian and authoritive actions have no place in a democratic society’
The Fire Brigades Union then retweeted the statement and commented:
‘We utterly condemn the violence meted out by the Metropolitan Police last night on Clapham Common.
‘These grotesque displays have no place in our society.
‘We send solidarity to the family and friends of Sarah Everard and all those who want to end violence against women and girls’.
The retweet was met with widespread condemnation from within the fire service itself.
Since the pandemic began, firefighters have seen first-hand the devastating effects of Covid as they have been helping the NHS by moving the dead and by helping various NHS Ambulance Trusts by driving emergency ambulances.
Talking about the FBU’s tweet, One Firefighter said:
‘‘As an FBU member for over 30 years I was shocked and ashamed of the statement they [the FBU] issued.
‘I guarantee that would also be the case of vast majority of firefighters.
‘Stay strong and look after each other’.
‘I am not a FBU member but am a serving firefighter & I distance myself from what I regard as ill judged comment. I will defend and support safety of women and all society.
‘Still hundreds dying from C-19 and police colleagues doing their job. I fully support all my police colleagues.
Whilst another said:
‘‘To all police officers please understand the statement from the FBU is not the opinion of Fire Fighters, this is a union claiming that they are talking on behalf of all members.
‘They do not speak for me.
‘I for one am proud of the police and support you 100%’.
Emergency Services News contacted the FBU for comment on Monday 15th March, but they have not responded.
And now a message reported to have been written by a serving firefighter has been shared amongst policing circles entitled: ‘From the firefighters on the ground, we are sorry.’
The message reads:
‘First of all, we are sorry.
‘That abhorrent statement toward the Met did not come from the firefighters. It does not reflect the views of the firefighters. It almost definately came from a pen pusher in their ivory tower, who has never worked on the ground a day in their life. The statement was not sent to the membership, it wasn’t agreed, it came out of no where.
‘We know this tweet is going to damage the relationship between us lot, especially between LFB and the Met.
‘I’m in a few WhatsApp chats with FFers/FBU and NOT A SINGLE FIREFIGHTER [their emphasis] has agreed with the statement. We agree with sending our condolences and regards to the family of Sarah, we do not agree or see why the FBU is getting involved with this issue.
‘We don’t know how to make this right. We’ve called for a sacking of the person who put the tweet out, an investigation and a public apology towards the police. We will not let this be brushed under the carpet.
The whole nation united in their sadness regarding Sarah’s sad and tragic death; A lady who was simply making her way home before her path crossed with what can only be described as true evil.
Hundreds of people wanted to pay their respects to Sarah, by holding a candlelit vigil at Clapham Common.
And although technically, the gathering was not allowed under the Government’s current covid restrictions, the Met were happy to allow the peaceful protesters to pay their respects, as it would appear that many of them were social distancing.
At around 18:00, however, as highlighted by the Met’s statement, the mood and atmosphere change.
A small group of individuals, who appeared to be intent on venting their anger, started to act in a way that meant that the Met’s ground commander probably felt that the vigil’s safety, in relation to Covid restrictions, had been compromised.
So, they moved forward and tried to disperse the crowd that had gathered around the bandstand; initially, by asking them to leave the area. But when this did not work, then it would appear that officers had little option other than to remove some of the crowd by hand.
And, of course, the clips of this part of the incident were the ones which were picked up by many sections of the mainstream media.
Seeing these partial clips of the events as they unfolded, and being angered by what they saw, then it would appear that many people, politicians and groups took to social media to condemn the police without knowing the full circumstances of the events as they unfolded. They had become angered by what they had seen, but they did not know what had actually happened and how the events unfolded in the way they did.
It would appear that the FBU would come under the banner, as mentioned above.
But once it transpired what had really happened, concerning the events which occurred after 18:00 hours, many people started to figure out for themselves what had led to the ‘hands-on’ interactions between the police and some members of the crowd.
If ‘we’, the emergency services family, can take anything away from this, then it is the simple fact that we should always wait for the truth to become known before reacting to partial clips shared by many sections of the mainstream media, which only ever show a tiny element of an often long, drawn-out and protracted event.
After all, we all remember what some sections of the mainstream media did with the images of the brave and heroic LFB firefighters who, having battled the Grenfell Tower fire for many hours, took five minutes to sit down and have a break as dawn broke on that tragic day.
We must not allow ourselves to be duped by some sections of the mainstream media who seem obsessed with undermining the life-saving work of the emergency services, without whom, this country would soon descend into utter chaos.
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