Sarah Everard: Clashes at Clapham Common vigil 'distressing' and 'alarming', says policing minister

·3-min read

Clashes between police and attendees of a vigil for Sarah Everard were "distressing" and "alarming", the policing minister has told Sky News.

But Kit Malthouse insisted the under-pressure Metropolitan Police commissioner, Cressida Dick, should not resign over the force's handling of events.

Live updates on Sarah Everard investigation and protests

Her officers have been heavily criticised after the ugly scenes on Clapham Common in south London on Saturday night, during which police were seen grabbing several women and leading them away in handcuffs.

Dame Cressida will be attend a meeting of the government's crime and justice taskforce on Monday to look at what further action can be taken to protect women and girls and make sure streets are safe.

The meeting is expected to be attended by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Home Secretary Priti Patel, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland, Dame Cressida and Max Hill, the director of public prosecutions.

Ms Patel is also expected to make a statement to the House of Commons on Monday, after which she is likely to be quizzed by MPs about Saturday night's chaotic scenes.

Asked about those events, Mr Malthouse told Sky News: "Along with everyone else, I found it very distressing and the pictures were obviously alarming, which is why the home secretary has asked for this independent investigation into what actually happened.

"So that we can hold the police accountable, which I know they're happy to be so, to make sure everything was done in accordance with the rules.

"I think we have to reflect on the fact that Saturday obviously saw unleashing a huge amount of emotion and anger.

"Not just about the appalling crime that occurred, but about a repressed sense of women's safety - and that that was in jeopardy and under threat."

The home secretary has ordered a "lessons learned" review into the policing of Saturday night's vigil by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, an independent watchdog.

People had gathered informally for Saturday's vigil after an event organised by Reclaim These Streets was cancelled following talks with the Metropolitan Police, which said it would be in breach of coronavirus rules.

Four people were arrested for public order and coronavirus regulation breaches.

On Sunday, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Metropolitan Police's headquarters at New Scotland Yard and chanted "shame on you".

But, despite widespread condemnation of how officers handled events over the weekend, Mr Malthouse declined to add his voice to those calling for Dame Cressida to quit as the head of the capital's police force.

"I recognise the police are in an incredible difficult position," he said.

"Throughout this pandemic we've asked them to do a job that they've never done before.

"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.

"So that very, very difficult position they're in needs to be reflected in our contemplation of this.

"In the vast majority of cases the police and the public have managed this situation extremely well between them."

Anna Birley, from Reclaim These Streets, also said she did not want Dame Cressida to resign, but asked for the Met chief to meet with the group.

"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 told ITV's Good Morning Britain.

"We do want her to meet with us.

"We were hugely disappointed that she put out a statement yesterday without talking to any of the people who were organising the vigil and had such a difficult experience with the Metropolitan Police force."

A poll by YouGov found 47% of respondents thought Dame Cressida should not resign, compared to 23% who said she should.

The survey also found 43% thought the vigil should not have been allowed to go ahead by police, compared to 40% who said it should have been allowed.