On 13 March at Clapham Common, an unofficial vigil took place to mark the tragic death of Sarah Everard. Following the coverage of the policing of the vigil, the Home Secretary—and subsequently the Mayor of London—asked Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of the Constabulary, Sir Tom Winsor, to conduct a bespoke inspection into the Metropolitan Police Service’s (MPS) handling of the vigil. This was set in the context of the “stay at home” covid-19 regulations in place at the time, which put in place temporary restrictions on gatherings of more than two people save for specific exemptions, to protect the NHS and prevent the spread of covid-19. This included temporarily and proportionately reducing the opportunities for people to exercise their freedom of assembly as part of an organised protest.
Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, fire and rescue services (HMICFRS) published its report on 30 March. I am grateful to Sir Thomas Winsor and his team for conducting this review at speed.
The report sets out the context for the events of 13 March. Following the death of Sarah Everard, members of Reclaim These Streets proposed to organise a vigil close to where she was last seen. However, after a High Court judgment on 12 March refused an application by Reclaim These Streets, it was announced by the organisers that the vigil would not take place. Members of the public however still attended.
The report’s main findings were that: the inspectorate is satisfied that, on balance, the MPS’s desire for consistency in policing mass gatherings justified its stance towards the vigil; there were three principles why MPS supporting a “covid-19 friendly” event was not a realistic option; and the police’s actions at the event were proportionate. While the vast majority of attendees were peaceful and respectful throughout the vigil, after 6 pm the report found that the event changed and became far more like a rally with dense crowds and little or no social distancing.
The report concluded that the police’s response to the events of the evening was proportionate, even in the face of severe provocations in the later stages of the event by a minority of those present. It also provided operational feedback for the Metropolitan Police Service to consider in relation to improving the communications between commanding officers and those on the ground.
The Government welcome the findings from this report. Officers were policing the vigil in extremely difficult circumstances and the violence and abuse directed towards them by a minority of attendees was unacceptable. The police have a challenging job to do, regularly putting themselves at risk to ensure that the rules are followed, and that people are kept safe. The Government will continue to support the police in carrying out their important work and learning the lessons from the policing of this event.
Finally, I would like to once more offer my sincere condolences to the family and friends of Sarah Everard.