Sarah Everard vigil: The story behind the image that shocked Britain

Patsy Stevenson and Dania Al-Obeid were both detained at the event on Clapham Common in March 2021, leading to criticism aimed at the Met for its heavy handling of the later stages of the vigil.

Patsy Stevenson is detained at a memorial site in Clapham Common Bandstand, following the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard. (Reuters)
Patsy Stevenson is detained at a memorial site in Clapham Common Bandstand, following the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard. (Reuters)

What's happening? The Metropolitan Police have paid out compensation to two women who were arrested at a vigil for murdered marketing executive Sarah Everard.

Patsy Stevenson and Dania Al-Obeid were both detained at the event on Clapham Common in March 2021, which was held amid ongoing COVID restrictions.

Hundreds of people attended the event – including the Princess of Wales – after an outpouring of anger at Ms Everard’s murder by serving police officer Wayne Couzens.

Shocking photos of Stevenson being pinned to the ground by a group of officers (above) received widespread coverage after the incident, leading to criticism aimed at the Met for its heavy handling of the later stages of the vigil.

The Met was also criticised for its “tone-deaf” reaction to the negative reaction in the aftermath.

Now, more than two years since the vigil took place, the Met have reached a financial settlement with two women who were arrested.

Here, Yahoo News UK rounds up what happened at the vigil – and what the response to it was…

What happened at the Sarah Everard vigil?

London, UK. 13th March, 2021. Police officers take control over a Vigil in memory of Sarah Everard at the Clapham Common bandstand, where floral tributes have been accumulating. the remains of Ms Everard were found in a woodland area in Ashford, a week after she went missing as she walked home from visiting a friend in Clapham. Metropolitan Police Officer Wayne Couzens has been charged with her kidnap and murder raising concerns over women’s safety. The Police are being criticised over their response to the Vigil where the enforcement of Covid Regulations  ended with the arrest of 4 people. Cr
Scuffles broke out as police clashed with protesters at the Sarah Everard vigil on Clapham Common. (PA)

The vigil, organised by campaign group Reclaim These Streets (RTS), was one of several planned across the country.

After the vigil was cancelled, RTS instead urged people to light candles in Ms Everard’s memory as part of a doorstep vigil.

However, hundreds of people still showed up to the Clapham vigil, while the Princess of Wales was among those to visit to pay her respects, and was seen pausing in front of the sea of flowers.

While the vigil was largely peaceful, scuffles broke out at the front of a crowd of hundreds as police surrounded a bandstand covered in floral tributes to Ms Everard.

At one stage, male officers could be seen grabbing hold of several women before leading them away in handcuffs, to shouts and screams from onlookers.

In response, the crowd chanted, “Shame on you”, while during another confrontation a distressed woman could be heard telling officers “you’re supposed to protect us”.

Campaign group Sisters Uncut, which had representatives present at the demonstration, claimed that “male police officers waited for the sun to set before they started grabbing and manhandling women in the crowd”.

Why was the vigil cancelled?

Hundreds of people gathered  at a peaceful vigil for Sarah Everard on Clapham Common in South London on the 13th of March 2021, London, United Kingdom. Sarah Everard went missing on 3 March after setting off at 9pm from a friends house to make her two and a half mile journey home. The police retreats out of the common in an orderly fashion. The vigil was also a call to end violence against girls and women perpetrated by men. The vigil was not sanctioned by police because of Covid restrictions and the police decided to arrest a number of people in an attempt to end the peaceful and highly emotional vigil. The event took place at the band stand on the common and speeches were held from the stand till police confiscated the sound equipment.(photo by Kristian Buus/In Pictures via Getty Images)
The event had been cancelled because police threatened large fines over breaches of COVID lockdown rules. (Getty)

The vigil was planned to take place in March 2021 – when COVID lockdown rules were still in place.

While the government had published a roadmap out of lockdown, there were still restrictions on social contact, with people only allowed to leave home for recreation and exercise outdoors with their household or support bubble, or with one person outside their household.

As a result, Met officers threatened organisers with £10,000 fines if the vigil took place and Reclaim These Streets decided to cancel.

But members of the public attended anyway, with no police intervention for around six hours before clashes occurred.

Following the ugly scenes at the vigil, assistant commissioner Helen Ball said police were put into a position “where enforcement action was necessary”, adding that four arrests were made for public order offences and breaches of coronavirus regulations.

She said at the time: “Hundreds of people were packed tightly together, posing a very real risk of easily transmitting COVID.

“Police must act for people’s safety, this is the only responsible thing to do. The pandemic is not over and gatherings of people, from right across London and beyond, are still not safe.”

Pinned protester ‘terrified’ during arrest

Angry scenes and arrests at the Sarah Everard 'Reclaim These Streets' vigil staged at Clapham Common even after organisers cancel the event after they lost High Court legal challenge against Met Police. The event was to be in honour of the murdered Sarah Everard where the 33-year-old went missing. Featuring: Patsy Stevenson Where: London, United Kingdom When: 13 Mar 2021 Credit: Mario Mitsis/WENN
Patsy Stevenson was arrested and fined during the vigil for Sarah Everard. (PA)

One of the women who was arrested at the protest – and received compensation from the Met – previously spoke of being “terrified” when she was pinned to the ground by police.

Pictures of student Patsy Stevenson being handcuffed and held down by two male officers sparked anger and became one of the defining images of the vigil.

She told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “I was terrified. I have never been so scared honestly.

“I think what was scary as well was as soon as I was pinned to the ground, I looked up and there were cameras everywhere.”

Asked why she was restrained and arrested, Stevenson said: “To be honest I still don’t know why I was pushed to the ground so forcefully.

“I am quite small and it was two very large male officers who sort of pulled me back very quickly and then I hit the ground.

“From start to finish it was just a sort of whirlwind, it happened very quickly.

“I was only there to lay a candle down, I did not expect that to happen.”

Stevenson said she was released around 20 minutes after her arrest and given a £200 fine.

What have Reclaim These Streets said?

London, UK 14th March 2021 Thousands gather at Scotland Yard and Trafalgar Square followed by marches to Parliament Square, via Downing Street, in protest at the manhandling of women at the Sarah Everard vigil. Many also protested at Home Secretary Priti Patels policing bill which will be discussed in the House of Commons, which will impact on the right to protest. Credit: Denise Laura Baker/Alamy Live News
Reclaim These Streets criticised the Met’s handling of the Sarah Everard vigil. (Alamy)

The aftermath of the vigil led to strong condemnation of the Met – including from organisers Reclaim These Streets.

They said the group was “deeply saddened and angered” by scenes of officers “physically manhandling women at a vigil against male violence”.

Despite coronavirus restrictions, police “should have understood that women would need a place to mourn, reflect and show solidarity”.

And while the Met insisted the event risked public safety by potentially spreading coronavirus during lockdown, RTS accused then-Met commissioner Dame Cressida Dick of putting people at “serious risk” of coronavirus.

In a letter to the Commissioner, the group accused her of failing to provide adequate “COVID-safe marshalling” and said attendees were “at risk of their human rights as defined under Articles 10 and 11 of the Human Rights Act 1998 being infringed upon”.

RTS organiser Jamie Kingler also accused the Met of “systemic ignoring and oppressing of women”.

She said it was “really, really sad to see videos of policemen handling women at a vigil about violence against women by men”.

Kingler added: “I think it was painful and pretty triggering to see.

“The fact that nobody stepped in and said, 'Do you see how this looks?’”

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