Words By Miranda Dunne
Hundreds of women flocked to vigil locations on Saturday to pay respects for Sarah Everard, despite police forces banning events. The 33-year-old marketing executive went missing on the 3 March after leaving a friend’s house in Clapham. Her remains were formally identified on Friday.
Police were seen taking action against vigil-goers both in Clapham and locally in Brighton. News images of the Clapham event appear to show police grabbing, shoving and arresting women as home secretary Priti Patel ordered a full report of police action on Saturday evening.
Events come after the Metropolitan Police banned a vigil organised by Reclaim These Streets due to take place in south London on Saturday evening, claiming it was unlawful under COVID restrictions. The group reckoned a high court challenge but lost it, with the judge saying that the police had told organisers their ‘hands were tied’ by COVID-19 restrictions.
The Met police stated they are not enforcing a ‘blanket ban on all protests’, but did not say how they determine which protests to ban. Anna Birley, an organiser, told the BBC the group had ‘consistently’ asked the police to establish ‘what would be a safe way to exercise our right.’
Organisers released a statement on Saturday, formally cancelling the Clapham event after failing to reach agreement with metropolitan police. Organisers in Brighton shortly followed suit, announcing the official vigil had been cancelled, instead encouraging people to use their daily walk to place flowers, placards and notes in Valley Gardens.
The decision to cancel the Brighton event followed a statement from Sussex police which read:
“We also recognise the desire to come together at this time, to mourn, show respect and make a statement on the issue of women’s safety.
“We remain, however, firmly in a public health emergency and the Covid-19 regulations continue to disallow large gatherings because of the continued, and very real, risks of the spread of the virus.”
Despite this, many people were seen placing flowers and candles, and standing listening to speakers at Valley Gardens. Police were then seen asking people to leave and one man was seen being arrested. Sussex police confirmed they had arrested an 18-year-old man following the events.
Sussex police defend their actions in their statement:
“Officers attended and engaged with those present, explaining the government’s coronavirus regulations and encouraging them to move on from the area. Where this wasn’t successful, officers moved to necessary and proportionate enforcement action.
This is consistent with our policing approach throughout the pandemic.”
This approach toward protests comes two weeks after Sussex police meted out a fine to a woman accused of organising a protest against the contract cut to domestic abuse charity Rise on Brighton seafront.
MPs pay tribute on International Women’s Day Debate.
Everard’s disappearance has sparked public debate about women’s safety. On Thursday, MPs attended an international women’s day debate, both in the commons and virtually.
Numerous MPs expressed their sorrow at developments in the Sarah Everard case, a day before remains found in Kent were identified as hers.
Over 60 MPs spoke, virtually and in the chamber, including Labour MP Jess Phillips, who read out the names of women killed over the past year in cases whereby a man was the principal suspect from a list compiled by Karen Ingala Smith of the Counting Dead Women Project.
‘Killed women are not vanishingly rare, killed women are common. Dead women do count.’ said Phillips.
Before Phillips spoke, deputy speaker Dame Eleanor Laing said ‘The reading of lists is prohibited in this chamber’ but that the speaker had ‘given special dispensation’ for Philips to read the ‘very important’ list.
A day before Ms Everard’s body had been formally identified, Philips read the final name, Wenjing Xu, before saying ‘let’s pray everyday and work everyday to make sure nobody’s name ends up on this list again.’
Phillips also spoke to Jayne Secker with Sky News on Sunday morning saying the actions of police last night undermined the ‘brilliant police officers’ over the country. She called on the government to ‘turn their rhetoric into action.’
Safeguarding minister Victoria Atkins also spoke to Sky News on Mothers’ day saying that she took the polices’ action ‘very seriously’ and that the home secretary had asked Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick for a report on Saturday’s events in London. The commissioner is currently facing calls to resign.
Atkins also highlighted that the government had reopened a survey for its Violence Against Women and Girls strategy in reponse to recent events, leading to a further 20,000 reponses since it opened at 6pm on Friday. Ahead of the government’s Violence Against Women and Girls strategy 2021-2024, the government opened a ‘call for evidence’ in December 2020. It initially closed on 19 February last month, but since recent events relating to Sarah Everard, Home Secretary Priti Patel announced it had been reopened.
Wayne Couzens, a 48-year-old police officer from Deal, Kent was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping on the 9 March, and murder on the 10 March. The suspect appeared in Westminster Magistrates’ Court charged with Everard’s kidnap and murder and a trial date has been set for 16 March.
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