Sarah Everard vigil organisers launch legal action after Met Police 'threaten Covid fines'

11 March 2021, 22:01 | Updated: 12 March 2021, 07:24

Organisers of a vigil for Sarah Everard have claimed they have been threatened with fines over a gathering
Organisers of a vigil for Sarah Everard have claimed they have been threatened with fines over a gathering. Picture: PA

By Kate Buck

Legal action has been launched by the organisers of Reclaim These Streets, a vigil planned for Sarah Everard, after claims the Metropolitan Police threatened them with Covid fines and costs of up to £30,000.

Organisers say the force originally decided to allow the event to go ahead as an exception under lockdown restrictions but later reversed its decision, meaning possible heavy penalties for anybody who attends.

A spokeswoman for the group said it will now look to the High Court on Friday to challenge the Met's interpretation of coronavirus regulations when read against human rights law.

The event is billed as a socially-distanced gathering for Saturday sunset on Clapham Common to "channel the collective grief, outrage and sadness in our community" and hold a minutes silence for Sarah, who went missing last week.

A Metropolitan Police Officer is currently being held in custody after being arrested for her murder.

The organisers said they contacted both the Met and Lambeth Council to ensure the event could take place but have now decided to raise money to cover the potential fine and legal costs of the vigil.

The group raised £30,000 in just under an hour via crowdfunding from supporters.

Read more: Sarah Everard - Probe launched into Met's handling of suspect's alleged indecent exposure

In a statement released on Thursday night, Reclaim These Streets said it was "always aware of the challenges of organising a Covid-secure vigil, but safety has been a top priority from the beginning" but that police had told them their "hands are tied" by regulations and would have no choice but to shut down the event and punish the organisers and any attendees.

Organisers added: "When we initially proposed the event, we proactively reached out to Lambeth Council and Metropolitan Police to ensure that the event could safely and legally take place.

"After initially receiving a positive response, we continued to plan and promote the event and continued to update the Council and Police.

"The Metropolitan Police said that they were 'trying to navigate a way through' and that they were 'currently developing a local policing plan' to allow the vigil to take place and to enable them to 'develop an appropriate and proportionate local response' to the event."

Speaking on behalf of the group, Caitlin Prowle said if it was to lose its legal challenge then it would have to cancel the event and explore other options.

She added: "If we lose we will be facing quite significant fines and we will also be putting anyone who wants to come along at risk of fines as well."

Read more: Women share how they've been forced to change their behaviour

A Met Police spokesperson said: "We understand the public's strength of feeling and are aware of the statement issued by Reclaim The Streets with regard to a planned vigil for Sarah Everard in Clapham Common this weekend.

"We remain in discussion with the organisers about this event in light of the current Covid regulations."

Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old marketing executive from London, went missing last Wednesday as she was walking home from a friend's house in Clapham just after 9pm.

Sarah's disappearance has 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.

It was confirmed on Thursday that the police watchdog has launched an investigation over whether Metropolitan Police officers "responded appropriately" to an indecent exposure claim against the suspect of Sarah Everard's murder.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) on Thursday night said the officer allegedly exposed himself in South London takeaway on February 28, four days before Sarah vanished.

The police officer, in his 40s and based in the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection unit, has been in custody since March 9 when he was arrested on suspicion of Sarah's kidnap.

He was was further arrested on suspicion of murder and a separate allegation of indecent exposure on Wednesday.

A woman, aged in her 30s, was also arrested on the evening of 9 March on suspicion of assisting an offender and has been released on bail to return to a police station on a date in mid-April.