A report on the Metropolitan police’s handling of a vigil for Sarah Everard has concluded that officers acted appropriately.
The report from the official policing inspectorate was ordered by the home secretary, Priti Patel, after widespread outrage at the scenes of officers grappling with mourners at the vigil on Clapham Common, south London, on Saturday 13 marzo.
Today the report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) was published.
It concluded: “The Metropolitan police acted appropriately at the vigil held in memory of Sarah Everard on Clapham Common, a new inspection has found.”
The vigil happened with Covid restrictions in place. The report clears police of being heavy-handed and says inspectors “found that the Metropolitan police was justified in adopting the view that the risks of transmitting Covid-19 at the vigil were too great to ignore when planning for and policing the event”.
“After reviewing hundreds of documents, body-worn video from police officers at the vigil and other media, and conducting interviews with the police, vigil organisers and politicians, the inspectorate found that: police officers at the vigil did their best to peacefully disperse the crowd; police officers remained calm and professional when subjected to abuse; and police officers did not act inappropriately or in a heavy-handed manner.”
The report appears to be a significant if not total vindication of police actions at the vigil. It does say there was “insufficient communication between police commanders about changing events on the ground”.
The inspectorate also says that “public confidence in the Metropolitan police suffered as a result of the vigil, and that given the impact of images of women under arrest – which were widely disseminated on social media – a more conciliatory response after the event might have served the Met’s interests better”.
The commissioner of the Met police, Cressida Dick, was publicly rebuked by Patel and the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, for providing an unsatisfactory explanation of why police broke up the vigil for Everard on Clapham Common, near where she was allegedly abducted before her death.
Immediately after the furore, Dick said she would not resign. Her five-year term as Met commissioner has just over one year to run.
The report appears to rebuke critics, especially those in “positions of responsibility”. Matt Parr, Her Majesty’s inspector of constabulary, who led the inspection team, dicho: “Condemnation of the Met’s actions within mere hours of the vigil – including from people in positions of responsibility – was unwarranted, showed a lack of respect for public servants facing a complex situation, and undermined public confidence in policing based on very limited evidence.
“After reviewing a huge body of evidence – rather than a snapshot on social media – we found that there are some things the Met could have done better, but we saw nothing to suggest police officers acted in anything but a measured and proportionate way in challenging circumstances.
“A minute’s silence was held for Sarah at 6pm, after which a peaceful and sombre vigil turned into something else – a rally with dense crowds and little or no social distancing. We concluded that the Met was right to recognise the need to be seen to be consistent in its policing of all events and gatherings. They were, por lo tanto, right to enforce the regulations – having gone to some lengths to persuade people to disperse.”
Amid criticism the lockdown rules are too complex, the report says parliament should “provide a set of rules that is (primero) readily capable of being accurately interpreted and applied and (second) likely to attract a high degree of public acceptance and consent.”
HMIC said the government and the London mayor were warned by the Met before the vigil that enforcement action may take place: “There is no doubt that the Metropolitan police were alive to the possibility of having to enforce the law at Clapham Common. En efecto, the force had taken some care to ensure that the Home Office, the mayor’s office and other parties were prepared for that eventuality, while stressing that such an outcome would be avoided if possible.”
The report says while most at the vigil were peaceful, a small minority were hostile to officers: “The peaceful and reasonable intent of the many was overshadowed by the malign actions of a few. Although not remotely comparable with the violence of some protests – including some in the days since the Clapham Common vigil – there was still a degree of aggression, rancour and animosity directed towards officers.”
The report has some criticism of the Met’s public statements after the furore erupted about its policing of the vigil, saying it was a public relations “disaster” on an international scale and the force could have been more conciliatory.
“The media coverage of this incident led to what many will conclude was a public relations disaster for the Metropolitan police. It was on a national and international scale, with a materially adverse effect on public confidence in policing.”
It continues: “We heard the Metropolitan police’s response to events described as ‘tone deaf’; we acknowledge that a more conciliatory response might have served the force’s interests better.”
The report adds: “We observe, however – and with the acknowledged benefit of hindsight – that the Metropolitan police’s case for its officers’ actions at Clapham Common made little impression when set against the impact of the images of women under arrest that were rapidly shared on social media.”
Sir Thomas Winsor, Her Majesty’s chief inspector of constabulary, dicho: “Public confidence in the police is critical. It is therefore important that there has been an independent, objective, evidence-based inspection to provide public reassurance, which we provide today.
“Our civilian police model is precious. Officers are our fellow citizens, invested by the community to keep the community safe. They rely upon and are entitled to receive public support when they act lawfully, sensitively and proportionately; in this case, in the face of severe provocation and in very difficult circumstances, they did just that.”
The report from the policing inspectorate was being closely read at the Home Office and London mayor’s office.
Everard, 33, vanished after leaving a friend’s house in Clapham, south London, at about 9pm on 3 marzo. She is believed to have walked through Clapham Common on her way home to Brixton, a journey that should have taken about 50 minutos. During that walk she talked on the phone to her boyfriend.
Video taken from a doorbell camera captured Everard on Poynders Road walking towards Tulse Hill – the last known sighting of her.
Six days after she was last seen, the Met announced on 9 March that a serving officer had been arrested over her disappearance.
PC Wayne Couzens has been charged with her kidnapping and murder and is scheduled to stand trial later this year at the Old Bailey in central London.