Boris Johnson will meet senior police officers today as the UK’s largest force continues to face criticism over its handling of a vigil for Sarah Everard, with the prime minister “deeply concerned” about what happened.
The Metropolitan Police has come under fire from across the political spectrum and beyond after the ugly scenes on Clapham Common in south London on Saturday, during which officers were seen grabbing several women and leading them away in handcuffs.
Hundreds of protesters, angry over the policing at the vigil, gathered outside the Met’s headquarters at New Scotland Yard before marching to Parliament Square on Sunday, with demonstrators chanting “shame on you” at officers.
In his first public statement since the vigil, and as pressure grows on Met Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick to stand down from her post, the prime minister has said the meeting will examine “further action we need to take to protect women and ensure our streets are safe”.
Mr Johnson also confirmed earlier reports that he had spoken to Dame Cressida since the vigil, and Scotland Yard’s commissioner has insisted that she will not be resigning.
She said the death of Ms Everard – whose body was found in a Kent woodland after she disappeared while walking home across Clapham Common – had made her “more determined, not less, to lead my organisation”.
Wayne Couzens, the 48-year-old Met Police officer accused of the kidnap and murder of Ms Everard, is due to appear at the Old Bailey on Tuesday.
Today’s meeting of the government’s Crime And Justice Taskforce will discuss how to protect women and girls from violence and harassment.
Mr Johnson, who will chair the meeting, said: “Like everyone who saw it, I was deeply concerned about the footage from Clapham Common on Saturday night.
“I have spoken with the Metropolitan Police commissioner, who has committed to reviewing how this was handled, and the home secretary has also commissioned HM Inspectorate of Constabulary to conduct a ‘lessons learned’ review into the policing of the event.”
He promised the meeting with ministers, senior police officers and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) representatives would examine “further action we need to take to protect women and ensure our streets are safe”.
The prime minister added: “The death of Sarah Everard must unite us in determination to drive out violence against women and girls and make every part of the criminal justice system work to protect and defend them.”
Downing Street said the meeting will cover progress on local crime prevention schemes, such as increased street lighting and CCTV, and a discussion of how more work in this arena can make streets safer for women.
It will also look at the low rates of prosecution for rape and sexual assault complaints, with a review of the criminal justice system “from end to end”.
It comes after a survey was relaunched by Home Secretary Priti Patel on Friday to catalogue the experiences of women and girls, gathering 53,000 responses in just two days.
Measures previously promised by the government include:
• Recruiting 20,000 extra police officers over the next three years
• An end-to-end Rape Review looking at how every stage of the criminal justice system handles rape cases
• A further £85m for the CPS
• The Domestic Abuse Bill will soon become law, introducing a new offence of non-fatal strangulation, strengthening legislation around controlling or coercive behaviour and widening revenge porn laws to include threats to disclose intimate images with the intention to cause distress
• New Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders, which will prevent perpetrators from contacting their victims, as well as force them to take positive steps to change their behaviour
• A new Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy, which will be published later this year
The Met said four people were arrested for public order and COVID-19 regulation breaches and 26 officers were assaulted during the clashes on Clapham Common on Saturday evening.
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 the Met about ways it could go ahead safely under coronavirus restrictions.
London mayor Sadiq Khan said the handling of the vigil was “unacceptable” – and that he was “not satisfied” with the explanation he has received from the head of the Met.
Ms Patel, who described the scenes as “upsetting”, also read the police report and said “there are still questions to be answered”.
Calls for the Met’s commissioner to resign were led by Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey, while Women’s Equality Party co-founder Catherine Mayer said her position was “untenable”.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said Dame Cressida should not quit but condemned the policing on Saturday as “wrong”.
But Dame Cressida stood firm on Sunday despite the large gathering outside the Met’s headquarters, and more crowds later forming in Parliament Square.
“We’re still in a pandemic – unlawful gatherings are unlawful gatherings,” she said. “Officers have to take action if people are putting themselves massively at risk.”
Ken Marsh, chairman of The Metropolitan Police Federation, which represents officers in the capital, backed the commissioner’s stance.
He said: “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?”