UK police face backlash after dragging mourners from vigil for murdered woman
LONDON (Reuters) – London’s police force which dragged mourners from a vigil for a woman whose suspected killer is a police officer faced a backlash from the public and politicians on Sunday, with the government demanding it account for its actions.
The disappearance of Sarah Everard, 33, as she walked home on the evening of March 3 has provoked a huge outpouring of grief and dismay in Britain at the failure of police and wider society to tackle violence against women.
Police had denied permission for a vigil on Saturday evening at London’s Clapham Common, near where Everard was last seen alive, citing regulations designed to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
But hundreds of people, mostly women, gathered peacefully at the park in defiance of the ban to pay their respects to Everard throughout the day, including Kate, Britain’s Duchess of Cambridge.
Footage shared on social media from late on Saturday showed dozens of police officers marching into the crowd to shouts of “shame on you”, scuffles breaking out, and officers dragging women away from the scene.
An image of officers handcuffing a woman as she lay screaming on the floor was widely shared and condemned on social media.
“Last night people were very, very upset, there was a great deal of emotion, completely understandably, and the police, being as they are operationally independent, will be having to explain that to the Home Secretary,” safeguarding minister Victoria Atkins told Sky News.
Home Secretary Priti Patel, the minister in charge of policing, described footage of the incident as ‘upsetting’ and said she had asked police for a full report on what happened.
Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Helen Ball defended the officers’ actions.
“Officers on the ground were faced with a very difficult decision. Hundreds of people were packed tightly together, posing a very real risk of easily transmitting Covid-19,” she said in a statement.
A police officer charged with Everard’s murder and appeared in court on Saturday. Police discovered her body on Wednesday in woodland about 50 miles (80 km) southeast of London. The court heard that her body was found in a builder’s refuse bag, and identified using dental records..
Everard’s murder has resonated with woman across the country, prompting thousands to share on social media their experiences of violence and sexual assaults perpetrated by men, and vividly describe the daily fear they feel.
“I think the sense of your body not being your own is something that a teenage girl learns far too early,” said theatre director Noona Murphy, who attended Saturday’s vigil.
The leader of the Liberal Democrats opposition party called for the resignation of London police chief Cressida Dick.
“Your officers should have been standing in solidarity with those on Clapham Common tonight not being ordered to disrupt this display of grief and peaceful protest,” Ed Davey wrote in a letter to Dick.
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