‘Institutional sexism’: Police watchdog backs Met’s handling of Sarah Everard vigil

THE OFFICIAL police watchdog has been criticised for its report backing the Metropolitan police’s handling of a vigil held in memory of Sarah Everard at Clapham Common.

Home Secretary Priti Patel had ordered a report into the police’s actions at the vigil, which took place on Saturday March 13, after scenes of officers grabbing, pinning down and arresting women circulated on social media.

Published today, the report said that the “Metropolitan police acted appropriately”.

In response, the original organisers of the vigil said the report made “clear there is institutional sexism running through the [Metropolitan Police] force”.

The vigil was held to pay tribute to 33-year-old Sarah Everard who went missing on March 3 while walking from Clapham to her home in Brixton in South London. 

Her body was found a week later by police in a wooded area of Ashford, Kent. Wayne Couzens, 48, who was a serving Metropolitan Police officer at the time of his arrest, has been charged with her kidnapping and murder.

Conducted by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMIC), the report says inspectors “found that the Metropolitan police was justified in adopting the view that the risks of transmitting COVID-19 at the vigil were too great to ignore”.

HMIC’s report said that the officers on duty at Clapham Common did “their level best to peacefully disperse the crowd” and only took action at a point “where the numbers of those present and the public health risks were such that the crowd could not safely be permitted to remain in place”. 

The report does admit that there was “insufficient communication between police commanders about changing events on the ground”. 

Inspectors also said that “public confidence in the Metropolitan police suffered as a result of the vigil”, and called media coverage a “public relations disaster”.

A page-long statement from Reclaim These Streets, the original organisers of the vigil, in response to today’s HMIC report said: “We anticipated a fair and balanced inquiry and are instead being told not to believe what we saw and heart reported two weeks ago. This inquiry is not representative of our experience with senior Met officials. 

“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.”

Labour MP for Streatham Bell Ribeiro-Addy wrote on Twitter: “This report will offer little reassurance to my constituents, those who attended the vigil and others across the country who watched video footage of the disgraceful scenes.”

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