Police Response at Sarah Everard Vigil Was Appropriate, Investigators Say
An official inquiry determined that London officers — filmed pinning women to the ground as they dispersed a crowd — were justified in their actions. But activists and local lawmakers criticized the findings.,
LONDON — The official body investigating police conduct at a London vigil for Sarah Everard, who was killed while walking home this month, has determined that the city’s police “acted appropriately” at the event, according to a report released on Tuesday. But the organizers of the event were widely critical of the report, and some local lawmakers said another review was warranted.
The police faced widespread criticism for their actions at the vigil after videos and photographs showed officers pinning some women to the ground as they cleared the demonstration.
Ms. Everard’s killing, in which a London police officer has been charged, has spurred a broader reckoning about violence against women and girls in Britain and prompted calls for policing overhauls. The London rally, on March 13, began as a vigil for Ms. Everard, 33, but grew into an anti-violence demonstration, and had been deemed illegal under a national coronavirus lockdown.
After the release of the report Monday, the main organizers behind the planned vigil, Reclaim These Streets, denounced the findings. The police response at the event also fueled broader protests nationally against a proposed policing and crime bill that would extend police powers to shut down peaceful demonstrations.
“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,” said the leader of the inspection team, Matt Parr, using a shorthand term for London’s Metropolitan Police. “But we saw nothing to suggest police officers acted in anything but a measured and proportionate way in challenging circumstances.”
The investigation, carried out by the Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services, an independent government body, determined officers’ actions to be appropriate and “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,” the inspectorate said in statement.
But Reclaim These Streets said in a statement: “It is clear from this report that the Metropolitan Police failed, which is very disappointing.”
The activist group said “antagonistic actions” from the police forced them to cancel the vigil, and said organizers had warned officers “that forcing us to cancel would cause additional risk to public safety” and inflame an already heated situation.
“We expected a fair and balanced inquiry and are instead being told not to believe what we saw and heard reported two weeks ago,” the statement said, adding that it was reflective of “institutional sexism running through the force.”
The inspectors’ findings maintain that police officers at the vigil “did their best to peacefully disperse the crowd,” “remained calm and professional when subjected to abuse,” and “did not act in a heavy-handed manner.”
But they did note that there was a disconnect between officers and commanders about the changing nature of the event, citing “insufficient communication.”
The inspectorate said its conclusions came after reviewing hundreds of pieces of evidence, including both body-camera footage from officers at the vigil and other video of the event, and conducting interviews with the police, vigil organizers and politicians.
It added that “public confidence in the Metropolitan Police suffered as a result of the vigil,” and noted the effect of the images of the officers arresting women.
“A more conciliatory response after the event might have served the Met’s interests better,” investigators said. One line in the report was particularly critical of the “chorus of those condemning the Metropolitan Police, and calling for the resignation of the commissioner, within hours of the arrests,” which it called unwarranted.
It said that while “a certain degree of uninformed commentary, particularly on social media, is inevitable, in this case some of the leading voices were those in positions of some responsibility,” appearing to take aim at politicians, some of whom had called for the leader of the Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick, to step down.
Ms. Dick had at the time called it “fiendishly difficult policing” and said she wouldn’t have wanted to see a vigil in memory of Ms. Everard end with such scenes. She said she welcomed the review as she said that confidence in London’s police force was still “far too low.”
The reaction to the investigation, commissioned by the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and the Home Office, the ministry that oversees policing, has been mixed. A spokesperson for Priti Patel, the home secretary, said in a statement that she was studying the findings closely and was grateful that the review had been conducted “at speed.”
“She recognizes that the police have done a difficult job throughout the pandemic and is grateful for their tireless work,” the spokesperson said.
Mr. Khan, who previously said he was “surprised and angry” at the police response, said that he accepted the report, in a statement to The Mirror.
But, he added, “It is clear that trust and confidence of women and girls in the police and criminal justice system is far from adequate.”
Others were more critical. Bell Ribeiro-Addy, a lawmaker from the opposition Labour Party who represents a district around the site of the vigil, said she would welcome further reviews because the report “will offer little reassurance to my constituents” and others who saw “video footage of the disgraceful scenes.”
“It may well heighten the impression that the police are not listening to women, or respecting the right to protest,” she said in a statement posted to Twitter.
The Metropolitan Police Force, in a statement after the report was released, said it hoped “this report goes some way to build confidence that our officers are working tirelessly to keep Londoners safe.”
Louisa Rolfe, assistant commissioner of the police force, said in the statement that the report “makes clear the difficult circumstances officers faced as a peaceful vigil became a hostile rally.”