Policing minister defends under-pressure Met Police chief following vigil

The policing minister has defended Metropolitan Police chief Dame Cressida Dick amid a storm of criticism over the force’s handling of a vigil in memory of Sarah Everard.

Kit Malthouse called scenes from Saturday’s event “alarming” but did not back calls for Dame Cressida to resign, as he said he recognised the “very difficult position” facing the police during the pandemic.

In ugly scenes, officers clashed with crowds gathered on Clapham Common in south London to remember the 33-year-old marketing executive who went missing while walking home from a friend’s flat on March 3.

Boris Johnson said he was “deeply concerned” about the footage from the event, some of which showed police officers grabbing women and leading them away in handcuffs.

The Prime Minister will chair a meeting of the Government’s Crime and Justice Taskforce on Monday to discuss ways to protect women and girls from violence, with Dame Cressida among the attendees.

Home Secretary Priti Patel, who will also be at the meeting, has asked the chief inspector of constabulary to conduct a “lessons learned” review into the police’s actions at the vigil.

During a round of broadcast interviews on Monday morning, Mr Malthouse said the independent investigation would “make sure that everything was done in accordance with the rules”.

Clapham Common vigil
The Prime Minister said he was “deeply concerned” about footage from the event (Victoria Jones/PA)

Asked if he backed calls for Dame Cressida to resign, he told Sky News: “I don’t, and I do recognise that police are in an incredibly difficult position.

“Throughout this pandemic, we have asked them to do a job that they have never done before and to stand between the public, if you like, and this terrible virus, in a way that none of us are used to, and certainly they aren’t as well.

“This particular circumstance, where emotion was running naturally extremely high, everybody incredibly distressed about what had happened, and indeed the police themselves devastated about the implications of this case.

“In these circumstances, it’s very important that we get to the detail of what’s happened and that’s what will emerge over the next couple of weeks.”

Calls for Dame Cressida to resign were led by Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey while Women’s Equality Party co-founder Catherine Mayer said her position was “untenable”.

Labour’s shadow policing minister Sarah Jones did not back the calls, urging for the focus “to be on Sarah Everard and the increasing problems of violence against women”.

“There’s going to be an investigation, we know that, and we need some answers, because we were given assurances and I think we all felt that the response on Saturday was the wrong one,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

A YouGov poll of 5,168 adults indicated 47% backed Dame Cressida to remain in post, with 23% calling for her to go.

It comes as landmark legislation comes before the Commons that will give police greater powers to crack down on disruptive protests.

Labour has said it will vote against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill because it contains “poorly thought-out measures to impose disproportionate controls on free expression”.

Reclaim These Streets had organised the vigil before being forced to cancel following consultation with Scotland Yard, which said it would be in breach of coronavirus rules.

An organiser from Reclaim These Streets said on Monday she did not want Dame Cressida to resign, but asked for the police chief to meet with the group.

Anna Birley told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “We are a movement of women seeking to support and empower other women, and as one of the most senior women in British policing history, we do not want to add to the pile-on.”

She said the group was “hugely disappointed” that Dame Cressida had not spoken with them before putting out a statement on Sunday.

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner said what had happened to Ms Everard made her “more determined, not less” to lead the organisation, as she resisted calls to quit over the events.

The Metropolitan Police said four people were arrested for public order and coronavirus regulation breaches.

Three of them, a man and two women, were arrested on suspicion of breaching the Health Protection Regulation and have been reported for consideration of a fixed-penalty notice.

A fourth person, a woman in her teens, was arrested on suspicion of a public order offence and has been released under police investigation.

London mayor Sadiq Khan said he would be asking the Inspectorate of Constabulary and the Independent Office for Police Conduct to look into the events.

There were fresh protests on Sunday outside Scotland Yard and at Parliament Square in central London, with demonstrators chanting “shame on you” at police.