One of Britain’s most senior police officers has called for more clarity on how forces should deal with protests during the pandemic following controversy over the handling of the Sarah Everard vigil.
National Police Chiefs’ Council chairman Martin Hewitt said the difficult decisions faced by police commanders have been made harder under lockdown restrictions.
His comments followed fierce debate over a memorial event planned for the 33-year-old, who went missing while walking home in south London on March 3 and was found dead in Kent the following week.
Mr Hewitt told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that policing demonstrations and public order is always “incredibly challenging”.
He said: “You are balancing different rights, you are balancing legal regulations, you are balancing health and safety. They are very difficult decisions for commanders on the ground to make in any set of circumstances.
“Where we are at the moment, where we are under Covid regulations, we have got the public health threat of the pandemic, those decisions have been made even harder for commanders.”
Mr Hewitt added: “These are complex. We want clarity so commanders on the ground can make those decisions in what are always very challenging circumstances.”
Organisers of the Reclaim These Streets vigil and protest had argued that they had the right to hold the event despite a ban on gatherings during the Covid-19 pandemic.
But they claimed that senior officers in the Metropolitan Police refused to engage with them constructively on plans to make the event Covid safe, and so cancelled the vigil.
Despite this, crowds gathered on Clapham Common on Saturday, leading to clashes with police that saw women led away in handcuffs.
Additional protests on Sunday night near Scotland Yard, Downing Street and in Parliament Square were attended by hundreds of people.