Issue of violence against women ‘more important than Covid restrictions’

Aine Fox, PA
·4-min read

Demonstrators who defied police requests to gather on Clapham Common on Saturday night have said raising the issue of violence against women is “way more important” than coronavirus restrictions.

There were tense exchanges at times at the large gathering, which police had urged people not to attend amid the pandemic lockdown.

An official event by Reclaim These Streets was cancelled on Saturday morning and an alternative vigil held online.

Sarah Everard death
Police surround the band stand in Clapham Common (Victoria Jones/PA)

But crowds of people made their way to Clapham Common’s bandstand at around 6pm on Saturday, with many laying flowers in what has become a growing floral tribute.

Some held placards reading “we will not be silenced” and “she was just walking home”, while the crowd chanted: “Sisters united will never be defeated.”

There were boos, jeers and shouts of “shame on you” from the crowd as Metropolitan Police officers walked on to the bandstand where some demonstrators were chanting.

Officers later walked through the crowd as people dispersed, encouraging those who were left to move away from the area once they had finished paying their respects.

One video posted online showed police officers grabbing women standing within the bandstand before leading them away, to screaming and shouting from onlookers.

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People leave floral tributes at the band stand in Clapham Common (Steve Parsons/PA)

A nurse who works in the Clapham area said she felt “conflicted” about attending the gathering because of pandemic restrictions, but decided she had to go.

Mel Clarke said: “I felt very conflicted (about coming) but I just felt that I needed to be here.”

The 33-year-old added: “I’m really pleased that there are a lot of men here. I hope that this is kind of an opportunity for men to learn how women feel, how vulnerable we are.

“I hope that this is the start of justice being served for Sarah.”

Two friends who live locally said they attended to “show our respects”.

Megan Taylor, 23, said: “It’s a good sense of community, when it’s so scary in these times, seeing people come together like this.”

She said it was “quite nice to see so many“ men in attendance “who want to pay their respects as well”.

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Police surround the band stand in Clapham Common (Victoria Jones/PA)

Twenty-two-year-old Sophie, who did not wish to give her surname, said people appeared to be following the coronavirus rules as best they could

She said: “It is difficult. Obviously everyone’s hopefully wearing masks and being sensible in terms of how long they’re staying in the proximity of people. I do think things like this (demonstration) are important.”

Eve James and her boyfriend Joe Webster, both aged 26, also attended.

Ms James said: “I was on the fence about whether to come or not because I have been following the rules as closely as possible but all week I have not been able to stop thinking about Sarah.

“I used to live in Clapham, I only moved to Fulham about a year ago and I just felt so strongly that it could have been any of us.”

Mr Webster said: “With Covid guidelines or whatever, it doesn’t matter. This is way more important than that.”

Asked if he felt it was important men attended the event, he said: “Of course.

“Men need to learn themselves how to make things better for women so if this is part of the process then yeah, let’s make it happen.”

As emotions ran high at the gathering, police said it had become “unsafe” and urged people to go home.

A tweet from the Lambeth police account said: “The gathering at #ClaphamCommon is unsafe. Hundreds of people are tightly packed together in breach of the regulations and risking public health.

“We are urging people to go home and we thank those who have been engaging with officers and who are leaving.”

The Metropolitan Police was criticised for its policing of the gathering, with one MP describing it as “heartbreaking and maddening to watch”.

Labour’s Sarah Owen added: “No one can see these scenes and think that this has been handled anything but badly by @metpoliceuk. It could and should have been so different.”

Charlotte Nichols, shadow minister for women and equalities, tweeted: “If @metpoliceuk had put the resources into assisting @ReclaimTS to hold the covid-secure vigil originally planned that they put into stopping any collective show of grief and solidarity (both through the courts and a heavy-handed physical response), we’d all be in a better place.”

Streatham MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy tweeted footage of the clashes, adding: “This could have been the socially distanced vigil the community needed to remember Sarah and all the women who have lost their lives to violence. We knew what was going to happen if the event was shut down.”

Meanwhile, more than 100 people defied a police request by turning up to a Birmingham city centre vigil.

The hour-long vigil, which was addressed by several speakers and included a minute’s silence for Ms Everard, passed off without incident and with no obvious sign of uniformed police.