London police chief won’t resign over handling of vigil

London’s police commissioner says she will not resign, defends officers’ actions dispersing a vigil for Sarah Everard.

Police detain a woman as people gather at a memorial site following the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard [Hannah McKay/Reuters]
Police detain a woman as people gather at a memorial site following the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard [Hannah McKay/Reuters]

London’s police commissioner has defended her officers’ actions and said she did not intend to resign amid a backlash over the way police treated some protesters during a vigil for a woman whose suspected murderer is a police officer.

London police faced heavy criticism from the public and politicians on Sunday for their heavy-handed tactics in breaking up the vigil.

The disappearance of Sarah Everard, 33, as she walked home on the evening of March 3, has provoked a huge outpouring of grief and dismay in the UK at the failure of police and wider society to tackle violence against women.

Police had denied permission for a vigil on Saturday evening at London’s Clapham Common, near where Everard was last seen alive, citing regulations aimed at preventing the spread of coronavirus.

But hundreds of people, mostly women, gathered peacefully at the park in defiance of the ban to pay their respects to Everard throughout the day, including Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge.

Late on Saturday, dozens of police officers marched into the crowd to shouts of “shame on you.” Scuffles broke out and officers dragged several women away from the scene.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick defended the actions of police officers at the vigil [File: Peter Nicholls/Reuters]
Home Secretary Priti Patel, the minister in charge of policing, described footage of the incident as “upsetting”. The BBC reported she had ordered an independent inquiry after an initial police report left some questions unanswered.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he was “not satisfied” with police chiefs’ explanation of the events and officers’ conduct must be examined. An image of officers handcuffing a woman as she lay on the floor was widely shared and condemned on social media.

Police were seen scuffling with some women at the event, and one woman was seen pinned to the ground by two officers. Video widely shared on social media showed a woman pulled up from the ground by officers, who then shoved her from the back.

Several women were led away in handcuffs. The force later said four people were arrested for violating public order and coronavirus regulations.

On Sunday, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick, who is the first woman to head the force, said she was “more determined than ever” to lead the organisation.

She said she fully understood the strength of feeling in response to Everard’s case, but stressed that Saturday’s vigil was an unlawful gathering and officers had been put in a “very difficult position”.

Everard’s murder has resonated with women across the country, prompting thousands to share on social media their experiences of violence and sexual assaults perpetrated by men, and vividly describe the daily fear they feel.

A steady flow of quiet mourners visited the site of the vigil on Sunday, placing flowers around a bandstand.

Al Jazeera’s Nadim Baba, reporting from London, said it was a “peaceful gathering”.

“But the emotion was clear, they were denouncing what they see as police brutality, heavy-handed tactics, and the tone-deafness of what happened on Saturday evening,” Baba reported.

Patsy Stevenson, who was pictured pinned to the ground by two officers during Saturday’s clashes, said she was considering whether to challenge the 200-pound ($278) fine she received.

“We were there to remember Sarah, we all felt deeply saddened and still do that it happened, so I brought a candle with me but unfortunately wasn’t even able to light it to put it down because the police turned up and barged their way through,” she told LBC radio.

Police officer Wayne Couzens charged with Everard’s murder appeared in court on Saturday. Police discovered her body on Wednesday in woodland about 50 miles (80 km) southeast of London. The court heard that her body was found in a builder’s refuse bag, and identified using dental records.

People mourn at a memorial site at the Clapham Common Bandstand, following the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard [Henry Nicholls/Reuters]
Source: News Agencies

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