Thousands attend Sarah Everard vigil in London despite ban

Police criticised for breaking up vigil as crowd pays tribute to slain woman hours after police officer charged with her murder appears in court.

Police detain a woman as people gather at a memorial site in Clapham Common Bandstand, following the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard, in London, UK, on March 13, 2021 [Hannah McKay/Reuters]

Thousands of people in the United Kingdom’s capital have defied coronavirus-related restrictions to attend a vigil in memory of a woman murdered last week – a case that has sparked an international conversation on women’s safety.

Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old marketing executive, disappeared while walking home from a friend’s home in London’s southern neighbourhood of Clapham on March 3. A police officer has been charged with kidnapping and killing Everard.

On Saturday, a large crowd gathered in Clapham Common to pay tribute to Everard even as planned nationwide vigils were cancelled due to pandemic curbs.

People gather at a memorial site in Clapham Common Bandstand, following the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard, in London, UK [Hannah McKay/Reuters]

“It’s overwhelming to be here, there is a lot of emotion,” Helena Matthews, a protester who had lived on the streets as a homeless person, told Al Jazeera at the vigil. “It’s all about reclaiming the streets,” she said, explaining why she felt the need to be there.

Reporting from the vigil, Al Jazeera’s Nadim Baba said police initially kept a low-profile presence but then began asking people to disperse.

Tensions heightened as night descended, with tussles breaking out between police officers and some protesters, according to videos posted on social media. Footage from the scene showed male police officers violently dragging female protesters away and making arrests.

“Tonight, thousands of women came to Clapham Common to grieve the death of a woman killed by a male police officer after dark,” campaign group Sisters Uncut said on Twitter.

“Tonight, male police officers waited for the sun to set before they started grabbing and manhandling women in the crowd.”

Commenting on the actions of the police, Sarah Owen, a member of Parliament with the main opposition Labour party, said on Twitter: “This is heartbreaking and maddening to watch. No one can see these scenes and think that this has been handled anything but badly by
[the police]. It could and should have been so different.”

The murder of Everard shocked the UK, prompting many women and girls to share on social media their stories of experiencing violence by men [File: Dylan Martinez/Reuters]

‘Women have had enough’

Everard’s body, which was found inside a builder’s bag in an area of woodland in Ashford Kent on Wednesday, was identified through the use of dental records.

The murder shocked the UK, prompting many women and girls to share on social media their stories of experiencing violence by men.

There has also been a political fallout, with Member of Parliament Jess Phillips this week reading out the names of 118 women murdered last year. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “shocked and deeply saddened” by the case.

“Women have had enough now,” Femi Otitoju, training director at Challenge Consultancy in London, told Al Jazeera.

“The numbers are not going down, we’re still seeing male violence being the leading cause of premature death amongst women – and it’s not just a UK problem, it’s a global problem.”

First court appearance

Earlier on Saturday, police officer Wayne Couzens, 48, made his first appearance at Westminster Magistrates’ Court facing charges for kidnapping and murdering Everard.

In court, Couzens spoke only to confirm his name and personal details, sitting between two plainclothes officers in the dock.

Chief Magistrate Paul Goldspring remanded Couzens in custody to appear at the Old Bailey on Tuesday.

The Metropolitan Police has expressed anger and shock that one of its own was arrested for the crime. The force said Couzens joined its ranks in 2018 and most recently served in the parliamentary and diplomatic protection command, an armed unit responsible for guarding London embassies and Parliament.

A police van believed to be carrying British Police Officer Wayne Couzens who is charged with the kidnap and murder of 33-year-old Sarah Everard arrives at Westminster Magistrates Court in London, UK, March 13, 2021 [Hannah McKay/Reuters]
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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