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Sarah Everard: Boris Johnson has ‘full confidence’ in under-pressure Met Police chief Cressida Dick

Written by on 16 March 2021

Boris Johnson has given his full backing to the head of the Metropolitan Police but admitted the chaos at Saturday night’s vigil for Sarah Everard was “very distressing”.

Cressida Dick has faced calls to resign over her force’s handling of events at Clapham Common in south London, after police were seen grabbing several women and leading them away in handcuffs.

Live updates on Sarah Everard investigation and protests

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick arrives at New Scotland Yard in London, the day after clashes between police and crowds who gathered on Clapham Common on Saturday night to remember Sarah Everard. The Metropolitan Police has faced intense criticism for its handling of the vigil, with officers accused of Image: Dame Cressida Dick has faced calls to resign over the weekend’s events

But, speaking to reporters in Coventry on Monday, the prime minister said he supported Dame Cressida.

When asked if he had full confidence in the Met Police chief, Mr Johnson replied: “Yes, I do. And what she’s asked is we look at what happened on Saturday night.

“The police do have a very, very difficult job, but there’s no question that the scenes that we saw were very distressing.

“So it’s right Tom Winsor [Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary] should do a full report into it.

“I think people have got to have confidence in the police and Tom’s going to be looking at that.”

People had gathered informally for Saturday’s vigil after an event organised by Reclaim These Streets was cancelled following talks with the Met Police, which said it would be in breach of coronavirus rules.

Four people were arrested for public order and coronavirus regulation breaches.

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‘All we wanted to do was pay respects’

The prime minister spoke to Dame Cressida on Sunday and said he had been “very concerned” about the images he saw from the night before.

“I think a lot of people were concerned about that,” he added.

“The reality is the country is united still in shock and grief about what happened to Sarah Everard.

“We must do everything we can to find the answers.”

Dame Cressida will attend a meeting of the government’s crime and justice taskforce on Monday evening to look at what further action can be taken to protect women and girls and make sure streets are safe.

The meeting is also expected to be attended by the prime minister, Home Secretary Priti Patel, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland and Max Hill, the director of public prosecutions.

Speaking in the Commons ahead of the talks, the home secretary said she had made her views “very clear” to Dame Cressida ahead of the vigil during “extensive discussions”.

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‘I am not considering my position’ – Met Police chief

“They were based on the fact that people who wanted to pay tribute within the locality – bear in mind we’re in a pandemic, we cannot forget that – that people who live locally clearly who were either out on a daily basis, passing through, laying flowers is absolutely the right thing to do and we saw many people doing that,” she said.

Ms Patel added: “This government backs our police in fighting crime and keeping the public safe, but in the interest of providing greater assurance and ensuring public confidence, I have asked Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to conduct a full, independent lessons learned review.

“The Metropolitan Police Commissioner has welcomed this and I will await the report and of course update the House in due course.”

Mr Johnson said Ms Everard’s death – after she vanished while walking home from a friend’s house in south London on 3 March – had “unleashed a wave of feeling from people, from women above all, who do worry about their safety at night”.

“The fundamental thing is that women have got to feel that when they make a complaint, when they go to the police with an account or an allegation of violence or harassment, that they will be taken seriously,” he added.

“So our teams are meeting tonight to discuss what more we can do.”

The home secretary said that since re-opening its public consultation on how to tackle violence against women and girls, there have been 78,000 responses.

The prime minister pointed to the government’s promise to recruit 20,000 new police officers in England and Wales, as well as its Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

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‘Deeply disturbing’ arrests at vigil

The legislation – which was due to be debated by MPs in the House of Commons later on Monday – includes new measures to toughen sentences for rapists, to stop the early release of serious sexual and violent offenders, and to toughen the law on domestic violence, Mr Johnson said.

Labour have vowed to vote against the bill and criticised the government for “rushing through poorly thought-out measures”.

Although they support several measures in the bill, Labour argue it will impose disproportionate controls on free expression and the right to protest.

They have claimed the legislation could see harsher penalties for damaging a statue than for attacking a woman.

And they have called on ministers to work on a cross-party basis to introduce a package of measures to tackle violence against women.

“It says lots of things about statues and almost nothing about protecting women and girls, and particularly dealing with violence against women and girls,” Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said.

“This is a crime, police, sentencing and court bill, it should be the vehicle for addressing it. And there is nothing meaningful in it.”

Sir Keir added there was a “gaping hole” in the legislation and said it “doesn’t address the fact that sentencing for rape and stalking is too low”.

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