Sarah Everard: Met Police chief will not step down despite calls to resign over vigil tactics

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick says she will not step down over the policing tactics used at a vigil for Sarah Everard.

"What happened to Sarah appals me. I am the first woman commissioner of the Met – perhaps it appals me in a way even more because of that," she said.

"What has happened makes me more determined – not less – to lead my organisation."

It comes after the mayor of London said the police handling of the vigil on Clapham Common was "unacceptable" – and that he is "not satisfied" with the explanation he has received from the head of the Met Police.

The scenes of officers grabbing several women at the Saturday evening gathering and leading them away in handcuffs were widely criticised, including by politicians of all sides.

A Home Office spokesperson also said that Home Secretary Priti Patel had read the police report and "feels there are still questions to be answered".

However, a Home Office source told Sky News that Ms Patel still has "full confidence" in Dame Cressida, despite calls for her resignation.

PA news agency reported that Prime Minister Boris Johnson also spoke to the commissioner on Sunday, but there were no details on the content of their conversation.

The vigil had been planned by Reclaim These Streets, but the group cancelled the event after what they said were repeated attempts to negotiate with Scotland Yard about ways it could go ahead safely under coronavirus restrictions.

What had been a peaceful and sombre gathering during the afternoon turned sour, with calls from London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Ms Patel for Dame Cressida to provide an explanation.

As hundreds of people gathered in protest outside Scotland Yard, Mr Khan said on Sunday: "I asked the commissioner and deputy commissioner to come into City Hall today to give me an explanation of yesterday’s events and the days leading up to them. I am not satisfied with the explanation they have provided.

"I will now be asking Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to conduct a full independent investigation of events yesterday evening and in previous days. I am also asking the Independent Office for Police Conduct to investigate the actions of police officers yesterday evening.

Mr Khan said the scenes arising from the policing of the vigil were "completely unacceptable", adding: "I received assurances from the Metropolitan Police last week that the vigil would be policed sensitively. In my view, this was not the case."

The home secretary has also asked Sir Thomas Winsor, Chief Inspector of Constabulary, to conduct a "lessons learned" review into the policing of the vigil.

On Sunday, Dame Cressida offered her explanation of the policing tactics, saying: "We’re still in a pandemic – unlawful gatherings are unlawful gatherings.

"Officers have to take action if people are putting themselves massively at risk.

"It’s worth saying, of course, I fully understand the strength of feeling, I think as a woman, hearing from people about their experiences in the past and what they feel about what happened to Sarah and what has been going on.

"I understand why so many people wanted to come and pay their respects and make a statement about this.

"Indeed, if it had been lawful, I’d have been there, I’d have been at a vigil. And six hours of yesterday was really calm and peaceful, very few police officers around, respectful, people laying flowers, not gathering, and a vigil that did not breach the regulations.

"Unfortunately, later on, we had a really big crowd that gathered, lots of speeches and quite rightly, as far as I can see, my team felt this is now an unlawful gathering which poses a considerable risk to people’s health according to the regulations."

Reclaim These Streets said in an open letter to the commissioner on Sunday evening: "The High Court made it clear that it is up to the police to conduct a proportionality assessment.

"Other police forces, such as in Nottingham, worked successfully with organisers to permit COVID-safe vigils.

"Given this, we find it particularly extraordinary that you said you would have attended the vigil yourself had it been lawful.

"The only reason parts of what ultimately took place, without our involvement, may have been not lawful (though whether it was or not is unclear) is your Metropolitan Police Force failing to work with the women leading Reclaim These Streets to develop a lawful, proportionate and safe event."

Meanwhile, the woman who was pictured being pinned to the ground by police in Clapham on Saturday night said she did not feel she had done anything wrong and was planning to attend a gathering in Parliament Square on Monday.

Patsy Stevenson told LBC on Sunday afternoon: "That’s the bare minimum we should feel the freedom to do, and I think it’s appalling that it’s gone on for this long and I think everyone needs to stand up to it and keep the ball rolling and get something actually changed."

Ms Stevenson said she had been fined £200 after her arrest on Saturday but was unsure why, adding: "I can’t speak for everyone that was there but I didn’t throw anything… the recollection of the night is a bit blurry, as you can understand, but I don’t recollect anyone pushing people unless it was in retaliation."

Police said four arrests were made that night:

  • Three people – a man in his 20s, a woman in her late teens, and a woman in her 30s – on suspicion of breaching the Health Protection Regulations. They were later released and "reported for consideration of a fixed penalty notice"
  • A female in her teens on suspicion of a public order offence. She has been released and investigations continue

Ken Marsh, chairman of The Metropolitan Police Federation, which represents officers in the capital, said: "Twenty-six Metropolitan Police officers were assaulted – punched, kicked, spat at – yesterday policing COVID-19 lockdown laws that a democratically elected government have imposed… laws that the Mayor of London has called on us to enforce to keep Londoners safe.

"Now colleagues are being condemned by politicians of all parties for doing what we have been asked to do by politicians on behalf of society. This is not right or fair. Damned if we do. Damned if we don’t. Are we supposed to enforce COVID-19 Regulations or not?

"Political leaders should be doing much more to support the police officers they have put in this impossible position.

"The thoughts of the Metropolitan Police Federation remain with the family and friends of Sarah Everard."

(c) Sky News 2021: Sarah Everard: Met Police chief will not step down despite calls to resign over vigil tactics

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