London Metropolitan Police under pressure over clashes at Sarah Everard vigil – The Washington Post

The woman was among thousands who attended a vigil Saturday in London’s Clapham Common for Sarah Everard, the 33-year-old marketing executive whose kidnap and killing has stunned the nation.

Police urged people to stay away from the planned vigil with England still in lockdown. Organizers canceled the event after talks with police about its legality and safety broke down. But people went anyway.

Police tried to disperse hundreds gathered in south London to honor the memory of Sarah Everard on March 13, hours after an officer was charged with her murder. (Reuters)

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick, who holds the most powerful policing position in Britain, said Sunday she was not considering stepping down.

“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 continued to question the way the police handled the event, as photos of male officers pinning a woman to the ground — at a vigil for a woman allegedly slain by a police officer — went viral.

Home Office minister Victoria Atkins was quizzed about the sensational 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?” said 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 memorial.

“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 — Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, left flowers — a Post reporter saw a small group of people hurling insults and objects at the police. One person smashed the rear view 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 the Metropolitan Police’s handling of the situation.

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 the 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.

Wayne Couzens, 48, has been charged with kidnap and murder in her death. The Metropolitan Police say he joined the force in 2018; 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.

On March 13, Londoners paid their respects to Sarah Everard, 33, whose body was discovered after her disappearance. (Karla Adam, Blair Guild/The Washington Post)

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.

The redheaded woman in the photo, Patsy 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.”