Sarah Everard vigil organiser blames ‘obstructive’ senior Scotland Yard officers for violent scenes that marred the event on Clapham Common, accusing them of bringing in male officers from other parts of London to arrest women
The organiser of a vigil for Sarah Everard blasted ‘obstructive’ senior officers from Scotland Yard today over violent scenes, and suggested male officers were deliberately drafted in from other parts of London to arrest women.
Anna Birley, of Reclaim These Streets, gave evidence to MPs about the clashes between Metropolitan Police officers on Clapham Common on March 13 that provoked a furious outcry.
Organisers Reclaim These Streets had cancelled the event after Scotland Yard rejected their proposals for making it Covid secure, and a High Court judge refused to intervene in a legal battle launched by the organisers.
But a crowd of around 1,500 people gathered on Clapham Common anyway, and scuffles broke out as police moved in to arrest speakers.
Ms Birley told the Home Affairs Committee that the organisers had a good relationship with local officers in Lambeth before the event.
But she added: ‘What changed was when it clearly went up a rung in the hierarchy of the Met Police and officers from New Scotland Yard said that they would not be willing to allow a vigil to take place.
‘They were very obstructive despite the fact that we proactively reached out to them.’
Patsy Stevenson is pinned to the the floor by police at the Sarah Everard vigil, where scuffles broke out as police surrounded a bandstand covered in flowers left in tribute.
Ms Everard disappeared on March 3 after leaving a friend’s home. Her body was found in Kent woodland on March 10.
Mourners wearing facemasks went to the common throughout the day on march 13, including the Duchess of Cambridge who paid a private visit to the makeshift shrine.
But the vigil on Saturday night in Ms Everard’s memory descended into violence, culminating in police officers pinning protesters to the ground in images that appalled the nation.
Met Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick, 60, appears to have clung onto her job despite criticism of how her force policed the vigil.
Dame Cressida has said her officers were right to break up the event, which saw thousands of people – mainly women – gather on Clapham Common in south London, near to where Ms Everard was abducted.
But Ms Birley said that before pulling the plug on the official vigil her organisation they had offered to take extra steps to be Covid secure, including staggered start times.
However, she told MPs today that police believed ‘that essentially any form of gathering … would be unlawful, so a blanket ban’.
She added: ‘We had asked in advance that it be policed locally, that local police who understood the frustrations were feeling were policing it, and we also asked that they try and ensure as many female officers on site as possible.
‘Not having been there I cannot confirm the number of female officers but it is very stark that the arrests seemed to be made by male officers and my understanding is that non of the arresting officers were Lambeth officers, they were New Scotland Yard officers that came from elsewhere, so i don’t know whether that might have contributed.’
Peaceful protests will be explicitly allowed under a tweak to coronavirus rules that will come into force from Monday amid fury at the handling of the Sarah Everard vigil.
Updated public health regulations will contain a specific exemption for political demonstrations as of March 29.
The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Steps) (England) Regulations 2021 contains an exemption to laws prohibiting mass public gatherings for demonstrations, as long as ‘it has been organised by a business, a charitable, benevolent or philanthropic institution, a public body or a political body, and … the gathering organiser takes the required precautions in relation to the gathering’.
The law has yet to be passed by MPs, with a hardcore of lockdown rebels threatening to vote against it. But with Labour set to back it, it is almost certainly to become law.