Watchdog backs police handling of Sarah Everard vigil

Margaret Davis, PA Crime Correspondent
·2-min read

A watchdog has backed the Metropolitan Police over its handling of the Sarah Everard vigil, saying officers were not heavy handed and remained “calm and professional”.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) was called in to examine the force’s actions after women who attended the event on March 13 were bundled to the ground and arrested.

It found that officers at the event did their best to peacefully disperse the crowd, remained calm and professional when subjected to abuse, and did not act inappropriately or in a heavy-handed manner.

It was unrealistic to hold a Covid-safe event on the common in light of the numbers of people who would attend and the short time available, and the force was right to conclude that the health risks of holding a vigil were too great, HMICFRS found.

But it said that there was insufficient communication between police commanders about changing events on the ground.

The watchdog also found that the force should have adopted “a more conciliatory response” amid criticism after the event.

Sir Thomas Winsor, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, said: “Our civilian police model is precious. Officers are our fellow citizens, invested by the community to keep the community safe.

“They rely upon and are entitled to receive public support when they act lawfully, sensitively and proportionately; in this case, in the face of severe provocation and in very difficult circumstances, they did just that.”

Organisers Reclaim These Streets cancelled their vigil planned on Clapham Common on March 13 after accusing Metropolitan Police bosses of refusing to engage constructively with them.

But crowds gathered anyway leading to ugly clashes between protesters and police who had gathered near the bandstand.

Home Secretary Priti Patel commissioned HMICFRS to look at the force’s handling of the event.

Sarah Everard vigil
People clashed with police on Clapham Common earlier this month (Victoria Jones/PA)

Matt Parr, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, who led the inspection team, said: “Amidst a heightened public debate on women’s safety, and during an unprecedented pandemic, the Metropolitan Police faced a complex and sensitive policing challenge at Clapham Common.

“Condemnation of the Met’s actions within mere hours of the vigil – including from people in positions of responsibility – was unwarranted, showed a lack of respect for public servants facing a complex situation, and undermined public confidence in policing based on very limited evidence.

“After reviewing a huge body of evidence – rather than a snapshot on social media – we found that there are some things the Met could have done better, but we saw nothing to suggest police officers acted in anything but a measured and proportionate way in challenging circumstances.”