Sarah Everard vigil report further damages trust in Met chief, say activists | Police

The group that initially organised the London vigil for Sarah Everard has said a damning report by a cross-party group of MPs and peers a...


The group that initially organised the London vigil for Sarah Everard has said a damning report by a cross-party group of MPs and peers about policing at the event has further undermined trust in the Met commissioner, Dame Cressida Dick.

The all-party parliamentary group on democracy and the constitution (APPGDC) found the Metropolitan police’s actions and that of Avon and Somerset constabulary (A&SC) at “kill the bill” demonstrations in Bristol breached fundamental rights to protest and involved unnecessary and disproportionate use of force.

Reclaim These Streets (RTS) unsuccessfully took the police to the high court to challenge its ban on the Clapham Common vigil 24 hours before it was scheduled. When it failed, it cancelled the event but hundreds still gathered. The policing provoked widespread condemnation and the Met is facing legal action from RTS and others with respect to its conduct.

The report, published on Thursday, says: “The Clapham gathering on 13 March was essentially of women to mourn the death of Sarah Everard, who it is alleged was killed by a police officer, and to make the point that our streets should be safe for women after dark. Therefore, sensitive policing as with other UK gatherings was appropriate. However, the [Met] switched from an observational presence to a more physical police intervention after 18.30 and officers reported verbal abuse.”

The committee says the Met did not “engage productively” with RTS to help make it an organised, Covid-safe event.

Anna Birley, an RTS organiser, said: “Throughout all of this Cressida Dick has led an organisation that has disregarded women’s rights and human rights to protest. And [the report] has further undermined women’s trust in her ability to lead the Met police. This problem is from the top, it’s not a group of officers on the ground making poor operational decisions, it’s a structural problem.”

In Bristol, there were weeks of protests against the police, crime, sentencing and courts (PCSC) bill, which seeks to curb the right to protest.

The report says A&SC failed to distinguish between violent and peaceful protesters and appears to have used excessive force against peaceful protesters, “including the use of dogs, beating with batons, and ‘blading’ with riot shields protesters who were on the ground”.

It highlights the case, a few days after the Bristol protest, of A&SC officers forcing access into a female teenager’s home after posing as postal workers, handcuffing her before she was dressed, before admitting she was the wrong protester, as raising “serious questions about police behaviour, sensitivity, and accountability”.

The APPGDC acknowledged police were put in a difficult position by ambiguity in the relevant lockdown regulations and that at the Bristol protests “certain enforcement action (and, arguably, the use of force) was justified”.

In light of its findings, the APPGDC proposes the PCSC bill be amended to include a clear statutory duty for police to facilitate peaceful protest and the removal of new police powers to curb peaceful protest.

A&SC said it had been unsuccessful in attempts to engage with organisers of the Bristol protests and no complaints of disproportionate or excessive force relating to the use of shield strikes had been upheld. It added: “We absolutely recognised their right to peaceful protest but we had to balance the significant risk to public health.”

The Met said Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services’ review of the policing response found the force had “adopted a lawful approach in their application of the regulations, both before and during the vigil” and “made it clear that police officers acted proportionately and did their very best to peacefully disperse the gathering, demonstrating patience and restraint”.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Sarah Everard vigil report further damages trust in Met chief, say activists | Police
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