Priti Patel 'backs the police' over Sarah Everard vigil saying she was 'sickened' by 'violence towards female officers'

  • Video report by ITV News UK Editor Paul Brand

Home Secretary Priti Patel has said she backs the police over the handling of the Sarah Everard vigil in Clapham Common, added that she was "appalled and sickened" over violence displayed towards female officers.

She threw her weight behind a report by watchdog Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) which concluded that Metropolitan Police officers were not heavy-handed and remained “calm and professional”.

Ms Patel and and London Mayor Sadiq Khan commissioned an investigation into the force’s actions after women who attended the March 13 event were bundled to the ground and arrested.

The ugly scenes attracted an outpouring of criticism on social media, with Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey and Women’s Equality Party co-founder Catherine Mayer leading calls for Met chief Dame Cressida Dick to resign.

However, inspectors found that officers at the event did their best to peacefully disperse the crowd, remained calm and professional when subjected to abuse, and did not act inappropriately or in a heavy-handed manner.

Ms Patel said: "I back the police when it comes to fighting crime and I think this report was important in the way that it has basically said that police acted in the right way when it came to events on Clapham Common.

"This report has stated very clearly that it was peaceful for a good six hours on the Common when the vigil took place but the report also goes on to highlight that there were a minority of individuals whose behaviours led to some of the scenes that we saw.

"Quite frankly, I was absolutely appalled and sickened to see the level of violence that was being displayed to police officers which the report highlights including violent behaviour towards female police officers."

Ms Patel tweeted at the time that scenes circulating online were "upsetting" but on Tuesday she said that people should not "pre-judge" the actions of police "without knowing the full facts".

She said: "I gave comment that evening in terms of some of the upsetting scenes that were on display which is why it was right that the independent report was commissioned.

"But the report has found that the handling of the Metropolitan Police was clear of any inappropriate actions and operationally they conducted themselves in the right way.

"I also think it is important that people don't just pre-judge the actions of the police by footage [that was broadcast] without not knowing the full facts."

The inspectors said there was a tipping point at around 6pm, when around 1,500 people crowded together to listen to speakers.

Officers near the bandstand were outnumbered and faced abuse, including a female officer who was told by women that they wished she would get raped or murdered.

Another constable was punched in the face, and one had their baton taken.

While broadly supportive of the handling of the event, HMICFRS found that that there was insufficient communication between police commanders about changing events on the ground.

The Silver Commander was not told about the arrival of anti-lockdown campaigner Piers Corbyn, when a public address system was put up on the bandstand, or warned that the Duchess of Cambridge would be paying her respects.

The watchdog also found that the force should have adopted “a more conciliatory response” amid criticism after the event.

It said: “The media coverage of this incident led to what many will conclude was a public relations disaster for the Metropolitan Police.”

The report went on: “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.”

Organiser Reclaim These Streets cancelled its vigil planned on Clapham Common on March 13 after accusing Metropolitan Police bosses of refusing to engage constructively.

But crowds attended anyway, leading to clashes between police and protesters who had gathered near the bandstand.

The report said the Met Police were 'proportionate' in 'challenging circumstances'. Credit: PA

Matt Parr, who led the HMICFRS inspection team, said: “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.”

Reclaim These Streets, the organisers of the event, said that they wasted giving ten hours of evidence to the inquiry and branded the report a "rubber stamp".

Jamie Klingler, from Reclaim These Streets, said she was “very disappointed but not surprised” at the watchdog’s findings and claimed that HMICFRS had focused on the original organisers’ inexperience rather than the actions of the police.

The group said it warned police that cancelling the event would make the situation worse because planned infrastructure would be lost.

She added: “Had this gone ahead the way it was supposed to go ahead there probably would have been four or five (news) articles, and it would have been a respectful vigil, we would have lit a candle.

“Our right to protest is a human right that they tried to take away from us, which then created all of the firestorm around it.”

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said that he accepted the report, but added: “It is clear that trust and confidence of women and girls in the police and criminal justice system is far from adequate.

“The events of the weekend of March 13 and 14 have done further damage to this and show that much more needs to be done.”

Assistant Commissioner Louisa Rolfe from the Metropolitan Police said officers had spent considerable time asking people to go home before taking enforcement action.

She said: “This report makes clear the difficult circumstances officers faced as a peaceful vigil became a hostile rally.

“We welcome the considered scrutiny of this event which highlights how a snapshot may not represent the full context of the challenges police face.”