Sarah Everard: London vigil cancelled after discussions with police, organisers say

13 March 2021, 07:30 | Updated: 14 March 2021, 06:51

A vigil for Sarah Everard that was planned for Saturday evening has been cancelled after talks with police
A vigil for Sarah Everard that was planned for Saturday evening has been cancelled after talks with police. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

A planned vigil for Sarah Everard in south London has been cancelled following discussions with police, its organisers have said.

The organisers of the Reclaim These Streets event that was due to take place on Clapham Common on Saturday said they "are sorry to confirm that our Clapham vigil scheduled for tonight is cancelled".

They added: "Instead, we are fundraising £320,000 for women's causes: £10K for every proposed fine for the 32 vigils originally scheduled."

In their statement, the group said they had worked to engage with the Metropolitan Police to ensure the vigil, near to where the 33-year-old went missing, could go ahead safely and in line with coronavirus restrictions.

But they said officers from Scotland Yard "would not engage with our suggestions to help ensure that a legal, Covid-secure vigil could take place".

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Clapham vigil organisers: 'Hands were completely tied' to cancel

The organisers added that "in light of the lack of constructive engagement from the Metropolitan Police, we do not feel that we can in good faith allow tonight's event to go ahead".

They appealed to people not to attend Clapham Common for the previously-planned demonstration and said details of a "virtual gathering" would instead be announced later on Saturday.

It comes after the High Court refused to intervene in a legal battle between the organisers and Scotland Yard.

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

Caitlin Prowle, one of the Reclaim These Streets organisers, said they did not want to end up in a situation they were having to raise funds to pay fines.

Read more: Body found in Kent woodland is Sarah Everard, police confirm

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She said: "We can't put our supporters at risk, quite frankly we can't put ourselves at risk in that way, and so really they've (the police) left us with no other option."

Ms Prowle added: "We are not willing to go to this amazing community and say we need you to help us with our hundreds of thousands of pounds in fines."

She said the money "will just go straight back into a system" that "continues to fail" women.

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.

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

In a ruling, the judge also refused to make a declaration that an alleged policy by the force 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."

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Meanwhile, 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.

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

Her disappearance struck a chord 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.

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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.”