People encouraged to take part in online and doorstep vigils for Sarah Everard

Aine Fox, PA
·6-min read

People who wanted to attend vigils in the wake of the murder of Sarah Everard are being encouraged to take part in planned online and doorstep events instead.

Vigils had been organised across the UK in memory of the 33-year-old, who went missing in London earlier this month, as well as to urge that more is done to tackle violence against women.

Organisers Reclaim These Streets announced on Saturday that a vigil planned for Saturday in Clapham, south London, near to where Ms Everard disappeared, had been cancelled and said a “virtual gathering” will take place instead.

Floral tributes to Ms Everard have been laid at the bandstand in Clapham Common, where the vigil was due to take place, and the Duchess of Cambridge visited the make-shift memorial on Saturday to pay her respects.

Kate was seen pausing in front of the sea of flowers.

Meanwhile, a fundraiser set up by the group for women’s charitable causes has already generated more than half its £320,000 target.

On Friday, a High Court judge refused to intervene on behalf of Reclaim These Streets in a legal challenge over the right to gather for a protest during coronavirus restrictions.

On Saturday, the group said that despite their attempts to work with police to ensure the Clapham vigil could proceed safely, they now felt it could not go ahead.

Organisers said they had made “many suggestions” to police, including splitting the event into different time slots – but that they were told going ahead with a vigil could risk a £10,000 fine each for each woman organising.

In a statement on the group said: “We have been very disappointed that given the many opportunities to engage with organisers constructively, the Metropolitan Police have been unwilling to commit to anything.

“While we have had positive discussions with the Lambeth officers present, those from Scotland Yard would not engage with our suggestions to help ensure that a legal, Covid-secure vigil could take place.”

A number of police forces across the country have also issued statements urging people not to attend the in-person events, instead encouraging people to move online.

Reclaim These Streets has encouraged people to join a doorstep vigil at 9.30pm, with the group saying it would be joining people across the country and “shining a light, a candle, a torch, a phone, to remember Sarah Everard and all the women affected by and lost to violence”.

They added: “We aren’t just lighting a candle for the women we’ve lost: we have been inspired by the women who have reached out and hope this is just the start of a movement that will light a fire for change.”

A vigil planned for Ms Everard’s home city of York has also been cancelled and organisers are instead encouraging people to post a photo of a candle in their window or doorway.

POLICE Everard Timeline
(PA Graphics)

West Midlands Police said events in Coventry and Birmingham had also been cancelled after discussions with the organisers.

Greater Manchester Police reminded people that congregating in large groups remained illegal due to current coronavirus restrictions but said it “absolutely supports” the doorstep vigils and “encourages our communities to join them”.

Commander Catherine Roper, Met Police lead for community engagement, said the force took “no joy” in the cancellation of the Clapham vigil but insisted it was the “right thing to do”.

She said: “I would like to thank the organisers of tonight’s vigil in Clapham Common for cancelling the gathering.

“Since Sarah’s disappearance, we have shared Londoners’ anguish, shock and sadness at the truly awful circumstances of her disappearance and death.

“I know that yesterday’s ruling would have been unwelcome news for the organisers and to those who were hoping to join others in tribute to Sarah and to make a stand on violence against women.”

Reclaim These Streets said they would “strongly encourage people not to gather this evening on Clapham Common”.

Some campaigners have said they still planned to attend the Clapham vigil despite the organisers’ cancellation.

The fundraising target of £320,000 has been set to mirror the fines which might have been issued had the vigils gone ahead, with the aim to raise £10,000 for each of the 32 vigils which organisers said had been scheduled.

Caitlin Prowle, of Reclaim These Streets said the group had not wanted to end up in a situation they were having to raise funds to pay fines, rather than for charitable causes.

She told the PA news agency: “The police’s lack of co-operation and unwillingness to engage with us to find a compromise means that we can’t go forward in good faith.

“We can’t put our supporters at risk, quite frankly we can’t put ourselves at risk in that way, and so really they’ve left us with no other option.”

She added: “We are not willing to go to this amazing community and say we need you to help us with our hundreds of thousands of pounds in fines.”

She said the money would “just go straight back into a system” that “continues to fail” women.

Senior Conservative MP Caroline Nokes, who had previously said she asked Home Secretary Priti Patel to “step in” and allow the vigil to go ahead, said she hoped people would now take the advice of organisers to gather virtually instead.

She told BBC Breakfast: “It is important that women come together.

“We can do that virtually and recognise the ongoing issue there is with violence against women and girls, perpetrated by men, but do it in a Covid-safe way.”

Ms Nokes, who chairs the Commons Women and Equalities Committee, said she has told Government it must “do something meaningful” when it comes to tackling violence against women and girls.

She said: “The message I am giving back to Government is ‘do something, do something meaningful, or my committee will be holding your feet to the fire over why not’.

Sarah Everard
A vigil for Sarah Everard in south London has been cancelled (Metropolitan Police/PA)

Labour’s Harriet Harman, who chairs the Joint Committee on Human Rights, said the law on freedom of association amid the coronavirus pandemic should be clarified.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The relationship between the Human Rights Act and its protection of freedom of association and the new Covid regulations has not been clearly spelt out.

“The police’s response to do a blanket ban, to say we can treat everybody equally by stopping all freedom of associations, is not the right way to go about it.”