A review into the Metropolitan Police’s handling of a vigil in memory of Sarah Everard has backed officers and insisted they ‘did not act inappropriately or in a heavy-handed manner’.
The report by the Chief Inspector of Constabulary Sir Thomas Winsor found the force was justified in its actions because the event risked spreading COVID-19.
Sir Thomas’s probe on behalf of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services did criticise communication between police commanders about changing events on the ground.
But the officer in charge of the inspection team Matt Parr left little doubt of his views on public figures who condemned the police, adding: ‘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.’
The probe came after the vigil descended into chaos with scenes unfolding showing officers restraining women at the gathering.
Its findings were greeted with surprise by members of the public, who questioned police’s lighter actions at other gatherings, with one adding ‘they must have been extremely negligent over the anti-lockdown protests’.
Sir Thomas’s report found:
- Police at the vigil did their best to peacefully disperse the crowd
- Officers remained calm and professional when subjected to abuse
- They did not act inappropriately or in a heavy-handed manner
- But there was insufficient communication between police commanders
- Officers should have tried to find known ‘impact’ protesters before the event
- Piers Corbyn was seen arriving there, but this was not passed to command
- Police commander not told Kate Middleton had turned up and found out on TV
Patsy Stevenson was arrested by police at the vigil in memory of murdered Sarah Everard
Sarah Everard, 33, went missing on March 3. A police officer has been charged with murder
Twitter users were astonished by the findings of the report, which cleared the police action
Sir Thomas appeared to largely absolve them of any blame, adding: ‘My thoughts are with Sarah Everard’s family and friends, who are suffering the most unthinkable pain.
‘The commissions I received from the Home Secretary and the Mayor of London to inspect the Metropolitan Police’s handling of the vigil for Sarah Everard on Clapham Common have been fulfilled.
‘This has been a rapid but detailed inspection.
Police officers form a cordon as well-wishers turn on their phone torches at the vigil
Police form a cordon in front of well-wishers and behind floral tributes at the band-stand
Police chief had no idea about Kate’s royal visit
The report reveals Kate Middleton’s visit to Clapham Common was unknown to a commander overseeing policing the gathering.
Despite protection officers being with her, incredibly the senior force head only realised she had been after seeing footage on the television news.
The report details: ‘At about 4.30pm, HRH the Duchess of Cambridge arrived with her protection officers.
‘She left flowers at the bandstand before paying her respects and departing without incident. The Silver Commander learnt of her visit only when it was reported by Sky News.
‘While we understand that it may be the tactic of protection teams to minimise prewarning of VIPs’ movements, this is a matter of concern. The incident illustrates the absence of effective communication to the Silver Commander about changing events on the ground.’
‘Public confidence in the police is critical. It is therefore important that there has been an independent, objective, evidence-based inspection to provide public reassurance, which we provide today.
‘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.’
Matt Parr, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, who led the inspection team, said condemnation of the Met’s actions was ‘unwarranted’.
He 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.
Some 40 per cent of Britons have said the event should have been permitted, while 43 per cent said it should not
Among those aged 50 and over, 52-55 per cent say the police were right not to allow the vigil, with 32-34 per cent arguing it should have gone ahead
How the vigil for Sarah Everard turned to chaos
Morning and early afternoon – Hundreds of well-wishers, including the Duchess of Cambridge, lay floral tributes and notes paying tribute to Sarah Everard at the bandstand on Clapham Common throughout the afternoon.
In previous days, organisers had been speaking to the Met Police in the hope of organising a vigil by the bandstand, but the force refused to give its go ahead due to Covid regulations.
4pm – Around 200 people gather at the site as part of an illegal event organised by left-wing feminist group Sisters Uncut and ‘community collective’ Reclaim These Streets.
5.45pm – A man walks onto the bandstand to make a speech, and begins shouting angrily about Ms Everard’s death and ranting about Covid rules. Some people respond with boos and chants of ‘not your place’. He is later led away by police.
6pm – A minute’s silence is held for Ms Everard. There are now around 500 people on the event, according to Sky News. The crowds began chanting ‘we will not be silenced’ as the police presence increases. An aerial photo shows officers dotted among the closely-packed crowd.
6.27pm – A group of women leading chants from the bandstand are asked to leave by officers, who explain that the event is breaking Covid rules. The crowd respond with chants of ‘Shame on you’ as officers continue talking to the women.
6.33pm – More police vans arrive and around 10 officers began walking towards the bandstand. An officer says over a loudspeaker, ‘This is no longer a vigil, it’s an unlawful gathering, we’re in the middle of a pandemic. You are going to get more officers coming here.’ This prompts more angry chants.
7.08pm – As the atmosphere grows increasingly hostile, protester Patsy Stevenson – speaking from the bandstand – tells police to ‘go home’ via a loudspeaker and urges the crowd to stay.
7.20pm – A woman is seen on video being forcefully led away by three officers. A minute later police repeat their warning that people have to leave and also post this on Twitter.
7.22pm – A group of police grab a woman standing on the bandstand just along from Patsy Stevenson and move her to a police van, to jeers from the crowd. Flame-haired protester Ms Stevenson is also led away and pinned to the ground by three officers, in an image that went viral. She was arrested and fined £200.
7.42pm – After chants of ‘all cops are b******s’, and two arrests, a group of officers are surrounded by the crowd. One of the protesters points aggressively at a policeman before shoving ensues as police push their way out of the crowd.
7.57pm – Protesters attack a police van and graffiti ‘ACAB’ – for ‘all all cops are b******s’ on the vehicle.
8pm – Police have dispersed most of the crowds and the atmosphere has calmed down.
‘A minute’s silence was held for Sarah at 6pm, after which a peaceful and sombre vigil turned into something else – a rally with dense crowds and little or no social distancing.
‘We concluded that the Met was right to recognise the need to be seen to be consistent in its policing of all events and gatherings.
‘They were, therefore, right to enforce the regulations – having gone to some lengths to persuade people to disperse.’
Ken Marsh, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, said the outcome of the watchdog’s review was ‘no surprise’ and hit out at what he called ‘armchair critics’.
He said: ‘The outcome of this report comes as no surprise. We said on the very evening that politicians of all parties should make themselves aware of all the facts before rushing to judgment and making statements.
‘But these armchair critics on their Saturday night sofas did not. The knee-jerk commentary from politicians of all parties – who as the report states were reacting to a snapshot on social media rather than the facts – has made the already difficult job of our colleagues in London incredibly harder. And more dangerous. And for that these people should be ashamed.
‘As the independent report states: ‘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’.
‘We could not have said it better ourselves.
‘This was outrageous behaviour from those who should know better and we trust as elected officials.
‘We now call on these politicians to make themselves accountable and to apologise to our hard-working colleagues for the damage they have done.’
The report pits the inspectorate on collision course with the organisers of the event.
Last week Reclaim These Streets blasted ‘obstructive’ senior officers from Scotland Yard today over violent scenes, and suggested male officers were deliberately drafted in from other parts of London to arrest women.
Anna Birley accused the Metropolitan Police of having an illegal ‘blanket ban’ on protests as she gave evidence to MPs about the March 13 event.
Reclaim These Streets had cancelled the event after Scotland Yard rejected their proposals for making it Covid secure, and a High Court judge refused to intervene in a legal battle launched by the organisers.
But a crowd of around 1,500 people gathered on Clapham Common anyway, and scuffles broke out as police moved in to arrest speakers.
Ms Birley told the Home Affairs Committee that the organisers had a good relationship with local officers in Lambeth before the event.
But she added: ‘What changed was when it clearly went up a rung in the hierarchy of the Met Police and officers from New Scotland Yard said that they would not be willing to allow a vigil to take place.
‘They were very obstructive despite the fact that we proactively reached out to them.’