Top officer calls for rapid review of Covid public gathering rules after Clapham

Richard Vernalls, PA
·2-min read

The chief constable of the largest police force outside London has called on legislators to carry out a rapid review of Covid-19 public gathering rules, following the Met’s handling of the Clapham Common vigil.

Sir David Thompson, who leads West Midlands Police, said the current regulations should be “quickly realigned”, adding a rethink was needed before the end of lockdown rules in June.

On Saturday, more than 100 people turned up to a vigil in memory of Sarah Everard in Birmingham’s Victoria Square with the Midlands force’s response notably low-key – with no uniformed officers in sight.

Sir David Thompson calls for rapid review of Covid-19 regulations
Sir David Thompson said Covid-19 regulations dealing with public gatherings needed to be “quickly realigned”. (Richard Vernalls/PA)

There were no reported incidents, no arrests and no fines issued.

Sir David said: “I make no comment on the Met’s response at Clapham Common, as it is subject to review.

“I do however think Parliament need to review the regulations governing public assembly under Covid regulations so they are quickly realigned with the freedoms expected in the country on protests.

“This cannot now wait until June.

Birmingham Sarah Everard vigil
More than 100 people gathered for the Birmingham Sarah Everard vigil, without incident. (Richard Vernalls/PA)

“Much emphasis is being placed on police discretion to navigate these matters.

“I think this has been conducted by policing – in the main – responsibly.

“However the law needs realigning quickly and irreversibly as we move out of the acute phase of the pandemic.”

The chief officer acknowledged police “need to be more responsive”, and “need to listen”, adding it was right the actions of officers and the criminal justice system were under scrutiny.

He said: “National prosecutions and convictions on rape are too low.

“(Tackling) domestic violence is work in progress, as the scale of the problem has grown.

“More has to be and needs to be done.”

He added that chief constables would be discussing next week issues around reporting of threats, harassment and abuse towards women as part of the hate crime categorisation.

But Sir David said change was also about “more than the police”.

He added: “The objectification of women by widespread access to pornography and the societal trends behind some of this behaviour is not going to be addressed by resort to law.

Sarah Everard death
Sarah Everard (Family/PA)

“This is about the normalisation of behaviour women find threatening and how they adapt their freedoms because of this.”

Concluding his remarks in the chief officer’s regular blog, posted Tuesday, he added: “Finally – in all of this is a family.

“A family whose daughter’s name is now owned by many.

“Whose death will shape change.

“A family who would give everything for this not to be the case and not to be in this place.

“They must not be forgotten in this.”