The organisers of the vigil for the late Sarah Everard are to bring a legal challenge against the Metropolitan Police after the chance to come together in solidarity was ‘robbed’ by the police force.
The socially distanced and peaceful assembly in Clapham Common South London was put forward by Reclaim These Streets (RTS) to mourn the loss of the 33-year-old who was kidnapped, raped and murdered by PC Wayne Couzens.
The vigil for Sarah Everard was forced to be withdrawn at the final moment as police had warned the four women behind it that it would be an illegal gathering under the Covid restrictions in place at the time, threatening each of them with £10,000 fines.
A hearing held today saw lawyers for RTS argue that police breached their human rights for freedom of speech and assembly.
Anna Birley, RTS co-founder told Metro.co.uk that the High Court case could hold an important precedent surrounding protests providing protection to anyone looking to defend women’s safety. She said –
‘Our experience is that the Metropolitan Police used Covid-19 regulations to say all gatherings were unlawful at the time.
‘We feel they should have taken into account whether we had a reasonable excuse for the vigil in March. That is what we are challenging.
‘We are saying the fact there is a reasonable excuse means there is a necessity to weigh up the circumstances and that our human rights should absolutely be protected at all times.
‘At the moment, it is particularly pertinent because the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is being debated at the moment, proposes a lot of power to curb the right to protest.’
After the vigil was banned by the Metropolitan Police Force, organisers brought forward an urgent court application looking for any clarification that the gathering was not illegal under Covid laws.
The Met Police supposedly accepted this position in the courtroom however did not action anything in the streets as seen at the spontaneous event, which did take place March 13th.
Police officers swarmed the crowds of the vigil, destroying flowers and candles that had been laid down for Ms Everard in addition to roughly ‘manhandling’ women.
A central clause of RTS’s argument was that people do not need to apply to protest in the United Kingdom as long as participants of said protest do not obstruct traffic.
Abiding by these laws, RTS chose a stationary event as opposed to a march so they would not need to apply for permission for the vigil.
Ms Birley revealed that the group still contacted the police and even offered to cooperate with the Met to work towards a peaceful protest, ensuring everybody in attendance’ safety.
The Labour councillor for Lambeth said –
‘The Metropolitan Police had a chance to demonstrate that they stand in solidarity with us.
‘We finally cancelled because we were not sure women would not be targeted.
‘But we have all seen the pictures of officers policing the event in a very heavy-handed manner and manhandling young women.’
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services produced a report which concluded that the police ‘acted appropriately’ when dealing with the event.
Although it made an effort to mention that the event was a ‘public relations disaster’ and Listing some of the statements made by members of the force handling to shut down as ‘tone deaf.’
A Metropolitan Police spokesperson maintained the position that their approach in the matter was based on the fact that the event was ‘an inaccurate interpretation’ of lockdown restrictions.
When providing comments on the on-going High Court case they said –
‘The claim relates to discussions between the claimants and officers in the days prior to the proposed vigil about the impact of the restrictions imposed by the Health Protection Regulations.
‘The Met was unable to give an advance assurance to the claimants that their involvement in organising the vigil would not put them at risk of enforcement action during, or subsequent to, that event.’