Met Police under continued fire over Sarah Everard vigil

A woman holds up a placard as people gather in Clapham Common, London, after the Reclaim These Streets vigil for Sarah Everard was officially cancelled. Serving police constable Wayne Couzens, 48, has appeared in court charged with kidnapping and killing the marketing executive, who went missing while walking home from a friend's flat in south London on March 3. Picture date: Saturday March 13, 2021.

Criticism of the handling of the Sarah Everard vigil in London has continued with the Nottinghamshire Police and Crime Commissioner making pointed comparisons with peaceful scenes in his region.

Around 100 people attended a vigil in memory of the 33-year-old in Nottingham on Saturday, with the event passing peacefully.

This contrasted with scenes in south London, where crowds gathered in Clapham despite an official event being cancelled and moved online, leading to clashes with police.

Police and Crime Commissioner Paddy Tipping told journalists he had “a lot of dialogue” with the Nottinghamshire chief constable Craig Guildford in the run-up to the event.

“I was very clear that there would be a demonstration, that people would turn up,” Mr Tipping said. “The chief constable was very clear that he was going to police it in a sympathetic way.”

Women gather in Nottingham city centre, some holding placards for Sarah Everard

Around 100 people paid their respects for around 20 minutes, maintaining social distancing and wearing masks, before they were asked to go home, he said.

“A crowd of about 100 came, socially distanced, wearing masks. There were two female police officers in the crowd, that was all that was necessary.

“After quarter of an hour or 20 minutes they were asked to leave, and they did. There’s a striking image of one of the female police officers lighting a candle herself.

“Contrast that professional policing, sympathetic policing, with events in London over the weekend.”

Metropolitan Police chief Dame Cressida Dick resisted calls to resign after her officers were accused of heavy-handedness after bundling protesters to the ground and leading them away in handcuffs on Saturday.

Placard with message for Met Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick amongst a crowd of people holding placards in Parliament Square

Subsequent protests on Sunday and Monday in the capital saw the force take a more hands-off approach.

A raft of measures currently being debated by Parliament would restrict protests deemed to cause significant disruption to the public or on access to Parliament.

Police and Crime Commissioner for Gloucestershire Martin Surl said the proposed new laws go too far.

“I think the debate in Parliament will begin to understand that people have that right to protest peacefully.

“And I don’t think there are any circumstances, even during Covid, where you can stifle that right to be heard.”

He said that a provision should have been made in lockdown laws to allow the public to express themselves “when people feel the pressure cooker is absolutely about to explode”.

“It was very difficult for people who had very strong feelings, not all protesters, people who just had to have their voice heard,” Mr Surl said.

“I’m not quite sure lighting a candle online was going to take the pressure off last weekend so it boiled over on Clapham Common.”