Police criticised for dispersing vigil in honour of slain woman as officer charged with murder appears in court.
Police in London clashed with mourners and protesters on Saturday after more than 1,000 people gathered for a vigil for a 33-year-old woman killed by a male police officer, hours after he appeared in court.
Sarah Everard’s disappearance as she walked home on the evening of March 3 has led to a wave of accounts from women about the dangers of walking streets alone at night, and dismay at the failure of police and wider society to tackle this.
Earlier on Saturday, an impromptu memorial with flowers and candles sprang up around the bandstand on Clapham Common in southwest London, near where Everard was last seen alive.
By late Saturday, about 1,000 people gathered at the site to pay their respects and protest the lack of security women feel when out in public spaces. Some chanted “shame on you” at police who were present.
Campaign groups had wanted to organise a formal vigil, but the head of London’s Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick, said any vigil “would be unlawful and would be unsafe” due to coronavirus restrictions.
Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Helen Ball said four people were arrested for public order offences and breaches of the Health Protection Regulations.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan – who is responsible for policing in the city – said the officers’ response “was at times neither appropriate or proportionate” and added that he was seeking an urgent explanation from Dick.
Appearing at London’s Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Saturday morning, 48-year-old police officer Wayne Couzens, wearing a grey tracksuit, spoke only to confirm his identity.
Couzens’s lawyer did not enter a plea to the charges of kidnap and murder ahead of a fuller court hearing scheduled for Tuesday. Couzens remains in custody.
Police discovered Everard’s body on Wednesday in woodland about 80km (50 miles) southeast of London. The court heard that her body was found in a builder’s refuse bag, and was identified using dental records.
England’s police watchdog has launched an investigation into the Metropolitan Police’s handling of the case.