Sarah Everard: High Court refuses to intervene in police ban on vigil

12 March 2021, 18:46 | Updated: 13 March 2021, 07:01

The High Court has refused to intervene between organisers of a vigil for Sarah Everard and the Metropolitan Police
The High Court has refused to intervene between organisers of a vigil for Sarah Everard and the Metropolitan Police. Picture: PA

By Kate Buck

Organisers of a vigil for Sarah Everard are continuing talks with the Metropolitan Police to work out how it could go ahead safely after the High Court has refused to intervene in a legal battle between them.

People have vowed to attend the London event on Saturday evening, despite the Metropolitan Police warning the public they should "stay at home or find a lawful and safer way to express your views".

A socially-distanced gathering on Clapham Common was planned for Saturday for people to "channel the collective grief, outrage and sadness in our community" and hold a minutes silence for Sarah, who was found dead in Kent.

Organisers launched legal action after claiming the Metropolitan Police threatened them with Covid fines and costs of up to £30,000.

Current rules in England ban mass gatherings to keep the spread of Covid-19 as low as possible.

But Mr Justice Holgate today refused to make “an interim declaration” that any ban on outdoor gatherings under coronavirus regulations is “subject to the right to protest”.

Read more: PM urges people to abide by Covid rules at planned vigil for Sarah Everard

In a ruling on Friday, the judge also refused to make a declaration that an alleged policy by the Metropolitan Police of “prohibiting all protests, irrespective of the specific circumstances” is unlawful.

Commander Catherine Roper, the Met's lead for community engagement, said in a statement: "I understand this ruling will be a disappointment to those hoping to express their strength of feeling, but I ask women and allies across London to find a safe alternative way to express their views.

"Throughout the pandemic, we have consistently enforced the Covid regulations and have made difficult decisions during a range of gatherings on issues about which people have felt very strongly.

"Our hope has always been that people stick to the Covid rules, taking enforcement action is always a last resort.

"We continue to speak with the organisers of the vigil in Clapham and other gatherings across London in light of this judgment and will explain the rules and urge people to stay at home."

Planned events in Cardiff and Edinburgh will now take place virtually, according to posts on Facebook.

One of the organisers of the event in the Welsh capital wrote: "After careful consideration (and much much bigger numbers than we ever expected!) we must respect that we are still under lockdown restrictions and in a pandemic, and neither one of us want anyone to put their health or the health of those they love at adverse risk."

33-year-old Sarah Everard went missing in south London on Wednesday 3 March while walking home from a friend's house
33-year-old Sarah Everard went missing in south London on Wednesday 3 March while walking home from a friend's house. Picture: PA

33-year-old Sarah Everard went missing in south London on Wednesday 3 March while walking home from a friend's house.

Police said they discovered human remains on Wednesday, and on Friday confirmed that the body found was Sarah.

Her disappearance struck a cord with many women across London, and indeed the rest of the country, many of whom have noted how common sense on the streets forces women to be wary of every man they pass.

A serving Metropolitan Police officer, 48-year-old Wayne Couzens, has been charged with kidnapping and murdering the marketing executive and detectives have been granted more time to question him.

Human remains were found in an area of woodland in Ashford, Kent, on Wednesday, and the search for evidence has now focused on military tunnels near the family garage of the suspect.

Downing Street earlier said the Prime Minister “completely understands the strength of feeling” around Sarah Everard’s disappearance but urged people to abide by Covid-19 restrictions.

The PM's official spokesman said: “He understands the strength of feeling around this case and nobody could fail to be moved by the experiences shared by many women since Sarah’s disappearance.

“We are still in a pandemic, we would ask people to follow the rules and social distancing rules but we do understand the strength of feeling on this issue.”