Video report by ITV News Reporter Sam Holder
The Metropolitan Police force is under intense pressure to explain its handling of a vigil in memory of Sarah Everard, with Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick urged to consider her position.
The event in Clapham, south London, was largely peaceful, but scuffles broke out at the front of a crowd as police surrounded a bandstand covered in floral tributes to the 33-year-old marketing executive.
Male officers could be seen grabbing hold of several women before leading them away in handcuffs, to shouts and screams from onlookers.
Victims Commissioner Dame Vera Baird QC said there was no real prospect of police successfully intervening in the crowd in Clapham on Saturday night, describing the circling of the bandstand as “quasi military”. She told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “To push people away seems to me to be a dreadful piece of misjudgment. “Are they really improving the chances of Covid not spreading by putting their knees in the middle of the back of young women, and putting their hands in handcuffs? “It didn’t seem to me to be the right thing to do.” Dame Vera added: “There needs to be some significant Government leadership, and there needs to be a significant drive to change the culture, to acknowledge that we are in real danger of losing confidence in the criminal justice system from half of the population of this country.”
In the early hours of Sunday, Assistant Commissioner Helen Ball said police were put into a position “where enforcement action was necessary”, adding that four arrests were made for public order offences and breaches of coronavirus regulations.
She said: “Hundreds of people were packed tightly together, posing a very real risk of easily transmitting Covid-19.
“Police must act for people’s safety, this is the only responsible thing to do. The pandemic is not over and gatherings of people from right across London and beyond, are still not safe.
“Those who gathered were spoken to by officers on a number of occasions and over an extended period of time.
"We repeatedly encouraged those who were there to comply with the law and leave. Regrettably, a small minority of people began chanting at officers, pushing and throwing items.”
On our politics podcast Calling Peston, listen to Jess Phillips talk about violence against girls
But the assembled crowd chanted “shame on you” on Saturday as police led people away at the vigil, while during another confrontation a distressed woman could be heard telling officers “you’re supposed to protect us”.
Shadow minister for domestic violence Jess Phillips stopped short of calling for Dame Cressida's resignation but criticised the police force for “so many missed opportunities.” She told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “Yesterday there were, oh gosh, so many missed opportunities throughout the day for police to work with organisers to create a completely safe vigil so that people could go and have a moment of sorrow and a moment of resistance against what is the experience of pretty much all women in the United Kingdom and around the world. “They missed the opportunity at every turn until what we saw was a 5 ft 2 tall woman being pinned down with two men on her back.”
She also said action was needed rather than government reviews, telling the programme: “The issue of street harassment, the issue of sexual violence, the issue of domestic violence and all violence against women and girls, we know what the problems are.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel described footage from the vigil as “upsetting”, adding on Saturday: “I have asked the Metropolitan Police for a full report on what happened.”
Home Office minister Victoria Atkins said she wanted to give Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick the chance to explain what happened on Saturday night. Asked whether Dame Cressida should leave her post, the Home Office minister told Sky on Sunday: “I really, really want to support the Home Secretary in her request to have a report from Cressida. “The police have got a tough job in policing the coronavirus pandemic more generally at the moment.” She added she did not want to "pre-empt" report.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said the scenes were “unacceptable”, tweeting: “The police have a responsibility to enforce Covid laws but from images I’ve seen it’s clear the response was at times neither appropriate nor proportionate.”
Mr Khan said that he was in contact with Dame Cressida and was “urgently seeking an explanation”, while Liberal Democrats leader Sir Ed Davey called on her to “consider” her leadership of the force.
He said in a letter to the Commissioner: “This was a complete abject tactical and moral failure on the part of the Police.
“We therefore call on you to consider your leadership of the service and whether you can continue to have the confidence of the millions of women in London that you have a duty to safeguard and protect.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer described the scenes as “deeply disturbing”, adding: “I share their anger and upset at how this has been handled. This was not the way to police this protest.”
Reclaim These Streets said the group was “deeply saddened and angered” by scenes of officers “physically manhandling women at a vigil against male violence”.
The group added: “Tonight, it [police] has failed women again, in the most destructive way. We will keep fighting for women’s voices to be heard and to matter.”
Hundreds of people converged on the south London park despite an official vigil being called off earlier in the day due to police warnings over coronavirus restrictions.
Vigils also took place in locations including Glasgow, Nottingham, Birmingham and Bristol.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would light a candle for Ms Everard with his fiancee Carrie Symonds, adding that he would be thinking of her family and friends.
The Duchess of Cambridge was among those to visit the make-shift memorial at Clapham Common on Saturday to pay her respects, and was seen pausing in front of the sea of flowers.
It is understood Kate, who is said to have brought daffodils to the memorial, made the visit in part because she remembers what it felt like to walk around London at night before she got married.
Meanwhile, a fundraiser set up by Reclaim These Streets for women’s charitable causes passed its target of £320,000 on Saturday evening.
Earlier on Saturday, the serving Metropolitan Police officer accused of murdering Ms Everard was remanded in custody after his first court appearance where it emerged her body was found inside a large builder’s bag.
Police constable Wayne Couzens, 48, is charged with kidnapping and murdering Ms Everard, who went missing while walking home from a friend’s flat in south London on March 3.