Good morning. Police at a vigil in memory of Sarah Everard were “placed in a position where enforcement was necessary”, Scotland Yard said amid pressure to explain its handling of the gathering and with Met police commissioner Cressida Dick facing calls to resign.
Priti Patel, the home secretary, and Sadiq Khan, the London mayor, both said they had demanded an explanation from the Met, amid accusations that officers had grabbed women during tussles with the crowd and mismanaged the largely peaceful vigil in Clapham Common, south London.
In the early hours of Sunday morning, Scotland Yard confirmed that four people were arrested for public order offences and breaching coronavirus restrictions at the vigil.
There was outcry across the political spectrum at the way the Met policed the event. Patel described footage circulating online of the police’s actions as “upsetting” and confirmed she has demanded a full report on what happened. Khan added that he was in contact with Dick and “urgently seeking an explanation”.
The Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, said the scenes were “deeply disturbing”, adding: “This was not the way to police this protest.” The Liberal Democrats leader, Sir Ed Davey, went further, writing a strongly worded letter to Dick. In it, he said: “This was a complete abject tactical and moral failure on the part of the police.” He added Dick should “consider her leadership”.
The gathering on Clapham Common, near where Everard was last seen, had been largely peaceful, but the atmosphere turned when police surrounded the bandstand, covered in floral tributes to the 33-year-old.
As several women were escorted away by police, the crowd chanted “shame on you” – and during one confrontation, a distressed woman told officers: “You’re supposed to protect us.”
Assistant commissioner Helen Ball defended the police’s actions in a statement. She said:
Around 6pm, more people began to gather close to the bandstand within the common. Some started to make speeches from the bandstand. These speeches then attracted more people to gather closer together.
At this point, officers on the ground were faced with a very difficult decision. Hundreds of people were packed tightly together, posing a very real risk of easily transmitting Covid-19.
Those who gathered were spoken to by officers on a number of occasions and over an extended period of time. We repeatedly encouraged those who were there to comply with the law and leave. Regrettably, a small minority of people began chanting at officers, pushing and throwing items.
Ball said Scotland Yard accepts that the actions of their officers have been questioned, but added:
We absolutely did not want to be in a position where enforcement action was necessary. But we were placed in this position because of the overriding need to protect people’s safety.
Let me end by saying that across the Met we review every single event that we police to see if there are lessons that can be learnt. This one will be no different.