A vigil for Sarah Everard in south London has been cancelled and organisers said details of a “virtual gathering” will be announced instead.
Reclaim These Streets had been planning to host a demonstration on Clapham Common in south London on Saturday, near to where the 33-year-old, whose body was formally identified on Friday, went missing.
But organisers said that despite their attempts to work with police to ensure the vigil could proceed safely, they now felt it could not go ahead.
In a tweet on Saturday morning 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.”
They added that “in light of the lack of constructive engagement from the Metropolitan Police, we do not feel that we can in good faith allow tonight’s event to go ahead”.
A number of police forces across the country later issued statements urging people not to attend the in-person events, instead encouraging people to join planned doorstep or online vigils.
Commander Catherine Roper, Metropolitan 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.”
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”.
West Midlands Police said events in Coventry and Birmingham had been cancelled after discussions with the organisers.
Reclaim These Streets said they would “strongly encourage people not to gather this evening on Clapham Common”.
They added: “We will be announcing the details of a virtual gathering later today and would encourage all those originally planning to join us on Clapham Common to take part.”
On Friday, a High Court judge refused to intervene on behalf of the group in a legal challenge over the right to gather for a protest during coronavirus restrictions.
People had vowed to attend the London event, despite the Metropolitan Police warning the public they should “stay at home or find a lawful and safer way to express your views”.
Organisers said they had made “many suggestions” to police, including splitting the event into different time slots.
But they said they were told that going ahead with a vigil could risk a £10,000 fine each for each woman organising, and that they thought meeting those costs “would be a poor use of our and your money”.
They are now aiming to raise £320,000 – £10,000 for each of the 32 vigils which they said had been scheduled across the UK – for women’s charitable causes.
Tens of thousands of pounds had already been raised on Saturday morning.
Another of the organisers, Caitlin Prowle, 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’.
“I think that’s the crucial thing. I want to see positive, determined action from the Government.”
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.”
Details of the virtual gathering are still being finalised by organisers but Ms Prowle said they hoped to have an online event people can take part in, as well as a “doorstep vigil” perhaps involving people lighting a candle to pay their respects.