London police have received heavy criticism after clashing with protesters at a vigil in honor of a murdered woman earlier this month. The main suspect in the death is a police officer.
Sarah Everard, 33, disappeared on the night of March 3 as she walked home. The crime has sparked protests in the UK and outrage over the failure of police and society at large to tackle violence against women.
Police had refused permission for a vigil on Saturday (13) at Clapham Common Park, near the site where Sarah was last seen. The veto was motivated by measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, authorities said.
However, hundreds of people, mostly women, gathered peacefully in the park, challenging the police veto, to pay homage to Everard. Among the women was Princess Kate, the wife of Prince William.
Videos from Saturday night, shared on social media, show dozens of police walking towards the crowd, as people shout “you should be ashamed”. Scenes also show clashes between protesters and police, who dragged women away from the scene.
An image of police officers handcuffing a woman after throwing her to the ground as she screamed has been widely shared on social media.
“Last night people were very upset, emotions were high, which is quite understandable, and the police, who are operationally independent, will have to explain themselves to the secretary of home affairs,” said Victoria Atkins, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Security.
Home Affairs Secretary Priti Patel, in charge of the police, called the footage of the clashes “disturbing” and said she had asked the police for a full report on what had happened.
The Deputy Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Helen Ball, meanwhile defended the actions of the police. “The police at the scene had to make a very difficult decision. There were hundreds of overcrowded people, which posed a real risk of the spread of Covid-19,” Ball said in a statement.
The policeman accused of Everard’s murder was questioned on Saturday. Police found his body on Wednesday in a forest 50 miles southwest of London. The body was in a garbage bag and was identified by the dental arch.
Everard’s death has sparked outrage in the country and has led countless women to share reports of sexual harassment and attacks by men on social media, and to describe the fear they feel at the daily.
The Liberal Democrat leader has called for the resignation of London police chief Cressida Dick.
“Your police officers should have been sympathetic to the protesters at Clapham Common, they should not have tried to end this display of regret with a peaceful protest,” Ed Davey wrote in a letter to Dick.