Thousands gather outside New Scotland Yard to protest against policing of Sarah Everard vigil

14 March 2021, 16:37 | Updated: 15 March 2021, 07:27

By Joe Cook

Thousands of protesters have gathered outside Parliament and Downing Street to protest against the Metropolitan Police's handling of a vigil for Sarah Everard on Saturday evening.

The force has come under intense criticism following the arrest of four people on Saturday evening, after hundreds gathered to mourn the murder of the 33-year-old and highlight violence against women.

The event descended into clashes after officers attempted to disperse the crowd.

Critics of police's handling of the event, including the Mayor of London and Home Secretary Priti Patel, described officers as "manhandling" attendees and using a "disproportionate" use of force.

Sadiq Khan has called for an independent investigation into the policing, saying he had met with Met Commissioner Cressida Dick and her deputy and was "not satisfied with the explanation they have provided.

Read more: Woman arrested on ground at Sarah Everard vigil 'not surprised' at how police treated her

However, as the protest was happening, Commissioner Dick told reporters she does not indent to resign, saying: "My view is, I'm entirely focused on growing the Met to be even stronger."

Protesters marched the short distance to Parliament, chanting "no justice, no peace", before laying down for a one minute of silence in memory of Sarah Everard and "all victims of state violence”.

Later, chants of "the sisters united will never be defeated" and "kill the bill" rang out across Parliament Square.

"The police will not keep us safe, they didn't yesterday and they won't today," one woman said in a speech to the crowd.

Many are holding banners, featuring phrases such as "Txt me when you're home babe" and "Believe all women".

Thousands of protesters lay-down outside Parliament in memory of Sarah Everard.
Thousands of protesters lay-down outside Parliament in memory of Sarah Everard. Picture: PA

Despite a heavy police presence, officers appear to be keeping their distance at the protest.

Police urged people to not gather, tweeting: "We know there are groups looking to attend further events across London today. We understand the strength of feeling but we remain in a health crisis.

"We urge people not to gather in numbers, this is for your safety and to prevent the spread of the virus."

Officers thanked those that left the crowd after they were asked to return home.

But hundreds stayed at Parliament Square into the evening, moving towards Downing Street and surrounding the Winston Churchill statue, before returning back to Scotland Yard.

Ken Marsh, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, defended officer's conduct on Saturday, saying: "Yesterday, 26 Metropolitan Police officers were assaulted - punched, kicked, spat at - policing Covid-19 lockdown laws that a democratically-elected Government have imposed... laws that the Mayor of London has called on us to enforce to keep Londoners safe.

"Now colleagues are being condemned by politicians of all parties for doing what we have been asked to do by politicians on behalf of society. This is not right or fair. Damned if we do. Damned if we don't. Are we supposed to enforce Covid-19 regulations or not?

"Political leaders should be doing much more to support the police officers they have put in this impossible position.

"The thoughts of the Metropolitan Police Federation remain with the family and friends of Sarah Everard."

Serving Metropolitan Police constable Wayne Couzens, 48, has been charged with kidnapping and killing Ms Everard, who disappeared while walking home from a friend's flat in south London on 3 March.

Her body was then found hidden in an area of woodland in Ashford, Kent, on Wednesday 10 March.

The Met Police are facing intense scrutiny after their handling of a vigil for Sarah Everard on Saturday.
The Met Police are facing intense scrutiny after their handling of a vigil for Sarah Everard on Saturday. Picture: PA
Many arrived at the protest with placards.
Many arrived at the protest with placards. Picture: PA

Many speeches at the protest have highlighted the government's plans to introduce a new policing bill that would allow officers to intervene in more protests, including those that cause "serious annoyance".

Following the events on Saturday evening, Labour announced they will vote against the bill, saying the "poorly thought-out measures" will "impose disproportionate controls on free expression and the right to protest".

Labour MP Nadia Whittome said she was joining the demonstration in Westminster, tweeting: "I'm marching outside Parliament with thousands of others standing against police brutality.

"The irony is, we won't be able to protest outside Parliament if #PoliceCrackdownBill passes."

However, Amanda Milling, co-chairwoman of the Conservative Party, said it was "shocking" that Labour is "trying to block tough new laws to keep people safe, including many vital measures to protect women from violent criminals."

"By voting against this Bill Labour are voting against tougher sentences for child murderers and sex offenders, killer drivers and measures that protect the vulnerable.

"This Conservative Government is working to keep people safe by reforming our justice system to keep our communities safe so that everyone can live their lives free from the fear of crime."