Sarah Everard: Police ‘in discussion’ with vigil organisers Reclaim These Streets ahead of legal challenge hearing
The Metropolitan Police has said it is still in talks with organisers of a vigil for Sarah Everard, after the group behind the gathering launched a legal challenge to allow it to take place.
The Reclaim These Streets group were planning to meet at 6pm on Saturday at Clapham Common – not far from where the 33-year-old went missing on 3 March.
Detectives have confirmed that human remains found in Ashford, Kent, on Wednesday belong to Sarah Everard.
Although the police initially gave a "positive response" to the planned vigil, the women behind the event claim the Met later reversed their position due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
They have now launched a legal challenge which they plan to take to the High Court today.
In a statement, the Met Police said: "We understand the public’s strength of feeling and are aware of the statement issued by Reclaim The Streets with regard to a planned vigil for Sarah Everard in Clapham Common this weekend.
"We remain in discussion with the organisers about this event in light of the current COVID regulations."
Asked about the vigil at a regular briefing with journalists, the prime minister’s spokesman said Boris Johnson "completely understands the strength of feeling" around Ms Everard’s disappearance.
But he urged people to follow coronavirus restrictions when asked about a proposed vigil.
London mayor Sadiq Khan said it was up to Home Secretary Priti Patel to step in to allow the vigil to go ahead.
"I haven’t got the power to change the regulations, that’s why I’m hoping the home secretary does," he told Sky News.
Mr Khan added: "I’m hoping the government provides clarity rather than money being spent going to court. Because it is the case that there are women, girls and others who want to protest lawfully and safely.
"I’m hoping a resolution can be found. But I’m also conscious that just in the last 24 hours, more than 30 Londoners lost their lives because of the virus. We still have a number of COVID patients in our hospitals and ICUs."
Vigils are also set to take place at 6pm on Saturday in cities across the UK – including Liverpool, Leeds, Birmingham, Belfast and Cardiff.
In a statement, Reclaim These Streets said it wanted "to channel the collective grief, outrage and sadness in our community", adding: "Our plan was to hold a short gathering, centred around a minute of silence to remember Sarah Everard and all women lost to violence."
One of the organisers Jamie Klingler, managing director at Incite Global, told Sky News the group "did everything possible in terms of COVID restrictions", working with the police and council to ensure the vigil would be safe.
Despite officers initially saying they would develop a "local policing plan" so it could take place, they later performed a U-turn – warning the organisers that they could face tens of thousands of pounds in fines and criminal prosecution.
Human rights lawyers have told Reclaim These Streets that the Met is wrong in its interpretation of the law – and that socially distant, outdoor gatherings of this kind are allowed under current lockdown restrictions.
A crowdfunding campaign to raise the £30,000 needed to cover potential legal costs was set up on Thursday – and surpassed this target within hours.
The group has said it will donate the money to a women’s charity if it’s legal challenge is successful.
However, the group added: "Should the judge decide against us, we may be liable for the Metropolitan Police’s costs of up to £30,000. We will also be forced to cancel the vigil, and no women across England will be able to assemble to assert their rights."
Ms Klingler added: "We deserve the right to protest and we deserve the right to have a moment of silence for Sarah Everard and all the women impacted by violence."
She was echoed by fellow organiser, barrister and campaigner Dr Charlotte Proudman, who told Sky News: "The vigil has to take place. We need to understand the inter-relationship of violence against women and girls… but also the relationship between that and sexual harassment which is so pervasive on our streets."
Speaking to Sky News, Michelle Donelan, minister of state for universities, said she could understand why people wanted to take part, but warned that the UK was still in a "perilous state" due to the pandemic.
It comes as the home secretary sought to reassure the public over the integrity and dedication of police after the arrest of a serving officer.
The officer, who is in the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Command, remains in custody after being detained on suspicion of the murder and kidnapping of Ms Everard, and on a separate allegation of indecent exposure.
The suspect, in his 40s, sustained a head injury while in custody and was taken to hospital for treatment. He has since been discharged and returned to a police station, the Metropolitan Police said.
Writing in The Sun about Ms Everard, Ms Patel said while such "awful" incidents are rare, they are also extremely worrying because they remind women everywhere "of the steps we all take on a daily basis, without a second thought, to keep ourselves safe".
She said these concerns had been compounded by the fact the man arrested in this case was a serving officer, but said the "vast majority" of police personnel were people of the highest integrity.
Ms Patel said the government was developing a new national strategy on tackling violence against women and girls to be published this year, which was informed in part by more than 15,000 responses to a public survey on the subject her department launched last year.
Meanwhile, The Daily Telegraph reports the government is considering instituting a new offence of public sexual harassment to protect women from abuse in public.
Asked if the government would commit to making this law, Ms Donelan said: "If more legislation is needed I’m sure we will take this forward."
Her family have described Ms Everard as a "shining example" who was "kind and strong".
While awaiting formal identification, Ms Everard’s family issued a statement through the police calling for any witnesses to come forward.