Priti Patel urged to 'decriminalise protest' after Sarah Everard vigil

15 March 2021, 18:14

Priti Patel is being urged to decriminalise protest
Priti Patel is being urged to decriminalise protest. Picture: PA

By Kate Buck

A senior Tory MP has urged the The Home Secretary to "decriminalise freedom of protest", amid criticisms over how the Sarah Everard vigil was policed over the weekend.

In ugly scenes on Saturday, officers clashed with crowds gathered on Clapham Common in south London to remember the 33-year-old marketing executive who went missing while walking home from a friend's flat on March 3.

Serving Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens, 48, has been charged with kidnapping and killing her.

Sir Charles Walker (Broxbourne) suggested MPs were "up to our eyeballs" in the events which took place at the vigil, given their support for tough Covid-19 restrictions.

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Metropolitan Police chief Dame Cressida Dick has faced questions over the force's handling of the vigil.

Speaking in the Commons, Sir Charles said: "This House criminalised the freedom of protest, this House, us.

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"Not Dame Cressida, not the Metropolitan Police, we did.

"We criminalised the freedom to protest collectively. We are up to our eyeballs in this.

"Does (Ms Patel) agree with me that now is the time to decriminalise freedom of protest, not tomorrow, not next week, but this afternoon, this evening?

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"Let's get people back on the streets, let's allow people to get things off their chest again. Protest is a safety valve."

Ms Patel responded: "I understand entirely the sentiment that (Sir Charles) has emphasised and echoed this afternoon.

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"The Prime Minister has laid out a road map and I appreciate that (Sir Charles) would love me to say right now let's just do this and change things immediately.

"There is a road map that has been laid out, we are still in a pandemic and we are following the guidance that has been put in place."

Conservative MP Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, urged the Government to ensure that the right of peaceful protest is protected under new legislation.

He told the Commons: "(Ms Patel) has rightly said that the right to protest is a cornerstone of our democracy, but as she also said, this House on January 6 voted swingeing powers to control protests for the period of the coronavirus restrictions.

"Can I ask her to work with concerned members across the House to make sure that the legislation that we're about to pass protects that right of peaceful protest and only stops serious disruption?"

Ms Patel responded: "I will continue to always engage with colleagues, all colleagues, on this really important point and I know how hard it has been for many colleagues of this House.

"Looking at the regulations, the implications of those regulations and the restrictions that they have brought in and of course this will also be subject to debate in the House going forward."