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Sarah Everard: Priti Patel says ‘images can be taken out of context’ after review finds police ‘acted appropriately’ at vigil

Written by on 31 March 2021

The home secretary has said “images can be taken out of context” after a review into the police’s handling of the Sarah Everard vigil found officers “acted appropriately”.

Speaking to reporters, Priti Patel said she backed the Metropolitan Police following the report’s findings and was “appalled and shocked” to learn officers had been assaulted during the event.

The vigil for Ms Everard, whose body was found a week after she went missing in London, was held on Saturday 13 March on Clapham Common despite police warning it would breach lockdown regulations.

Sarah Everard Image: Sarah Everard went missing on 3 March and her body was found in woodland near Ashford in Kent a week later

A report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) has found that “officers remained calm and professional when subjected to abuse” and “did not act inappropriately or in a heavy-handed manner”.

But it said that there was insufficient communication between police commanders about the changing nature of the events on the ground.

The watchdog also found that the force should have adopted “a more conciliatory response” amid criticism after the event and that public confidence in the Met Police had “suffered as a result” of its policing.

Images of women being pushed to the ground by police at the vigil caused uproar in the days that followed, with hundreds gathering to protest outside Scotland Yard.

But the home secretary said: “It’s important people don’t judge the actions of the police by footage that was put out and aired on broadcast without knowing the full facts…

“I do also think images can be taken out of context and we should not prejudge. Some people have before knowing the full facts.”

Shortly after the images emerged from the vigil, Ms Patel had called them “upsetting”.

But she defended her change in tone, saying she had “rightly” demanded a report on the event for this reason.

She added that violence towards officers was “simply unacceptable” and said the police had “conducted themselves in the right way”.

One officer who was at the vigil, Met Police Sergeant Imogen Hirst, said she was “hit three times in the chest” and there was “a lot of pushing and shoving”.

“There’s actually body-worn [footage] where I’m saying to this person who assaulted me ‘madam don’t hit me, please don’t hit me’ and she continued to hit me before I gently pushed her out of the way,” she said.

“The verbal abuse I heard was the worst. I’ve worked tens and tens of demonstrations and I’ve never been verbally abused like that.”

The Met Police said in a statement: “We are determined to tackle violence against women and girls and hope this report goes some way to build confidence that our officers are working tirelessly to keep Londoners safe.”

Police added that while the vast majority of those who attended the vigil throughout the afternoon did so in a “dignified, respectful and lawful manner”, the atmosphere changed after 6pm and officers faced “considerable abuse and hostility from a small minority of the crowd”.

Police surround the band stand in Clapham Common, London, after the Reclaim These Streets vigil for Sarah Everard was officially cancelled. Image: Police surround the bandstand in Clapham Common, London

Reclaim These Streets had failed to agree with the Met on how a vigil could be held in line with the rules, however hundreds of people turned up anyway to lay flowers on the bandstand to show their respects.

The organisation said the report from HMICFRS was “disappointing” and demonstrated “institutional sexism running through the force”.

In a statement on Twitter, the group also said: “The HMICFRS interviewed Reclaim These Streets for over 10 hours. The Met Police antagonistic actions around the vigil forced us to cancel the event, which then in turn, caused a greater number of people to attend due to their publicity.

“We warned the Met Police on Friday night, that forcing us to cancel would cause additional risk to public safety, as did Lambeth Council. They completely dismissed our warning and concerns.

“The HMIC had a responsibility to begin rebuilding the trust between women and girls across the capital and the Metropolitan Police. The disregard for us as women organisers in the report is clear there is still institutional sexism running through the force.”

A minute’s silence for Ms Everard was held at 6pm when the crowd had reached around 500 people and the police presence had grown.

It was shortly after this that chanting began and a local councillor asked people to go home.

As it got dark the police started to urge a group of people on the bandstand to leave and told them COVID regulations were being broken.

The bandstand was soon almost surrounded by officers and the atmosphere started to become more hostile. It was at this point that a number of women appeared to be shoved and people starting shouting at the police.

Chants of “all cops are b******s” were directed towards officers on the bandstand.

Met Police officers grabbed women stood within the bandstand before leading them away, to screaming and shouting from onlookers.

By 8pm the clashes had finished and the Metropolitan Police said four people were arrested for public order and coronavirus regulation breaches.

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