NEWS
30/03/2021 13:32 BST

Watchdog Exonerates Police Over Sarah Everard Protest – After Speaking Only To Police

A review that found officers “did not act in a heavy-handed manner” included no interviews with protesters or witnesses.

Kristian Buus via In Pictures via Getty Images
A review by HMICFRS found officers “did not act inappropriately or in a heavy-handed manner” at the Clapham Common vigil on March 13.  

A watchdog that has supported the Metropolitan Police over its controversial handling of the Sarah Everard vigil did not include any accounts of the event from people outside the force.

A review by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) published on Tuesday found officers “did not act inappropriately or in a heavy-handed manner” at the Clapham Common vigil on March 13.

The Met came under fire for its handling of the south London event, with officers accused of “grabbing and manhandling” women during clashes with the crowd.

While the vigil was largely peaceful, scuffles broke out at the front of a crowd of hundreds as police surrounded a bandstand covered in floral tributes to the 33-year-old. At one stage, male officers could be seen grabbing hold of several women before leading them away in handcuffs, to shouts and screams from onlookers.

But the review by HMICFRS, commissioned by home secretary Priti Patel, concluded the police “acted appropriately” and that the evidence was “clear” that officers “did their level best to peacefully disperse the crowd”.

The report adds: “When the decision to ‘move to enforcement’ was made, our review found nothing to suggest that officers acted inappropriately or in a heavy-handed manner. In fact, we found evidence of patience and professionalism during engagement prior to, during and after arrest.”

Yet despite claiming to “gather a wide range of views and perspectives”, the review does not include any accounts of the event from people present at the scene who were not members of the Met Police itself.

More than 30 interviews were conducted by the inspection team “with police officers at various levels of seniority, the RTS [Reclaim These Streets] organisers, politicians and officials in central and local government”, but no interviews were made with members of the public or Sisters Uncut, the organisation that led the Sarah Everard vigil. 

“To help us form an independent view of what happened over the following hours, we examined body-worn video, officers’ statements and other material,” the report says.

“We are confident that we reviewed enough material to enable us to form a reliable view.”

HMICFRS has been contacted for comment. 

Reclaim These Streets – which had originally organised the vigil before cancelling blaming a “lack of constructive engagement from the Metropolitan Police” – described the report’s findings as “disappointing”.

In a statement on Twitter, the group said the inquiry was “not representative of our experience with senior Met officials” and claimed it demonstrated “institutional sexism running through the force”.

By contrast, London mayor Sadiq Khan said he accepted the results of the watchdog’s report, though that it was “clear that trust and confidence of women and girls in the police and criminal justice system is far from adequate”.

He said: “While I do not have operational control over the police, I called for the government and MPS to find a way to allow the vigil to happen legally and safely in advance of Saturday 13 March, and was provided with assurances that the MPS would police it sensitively.

“I accept the HMICFRS report, but it is clear that trust and confidence of women and girls in the police and criminal justice system is far from adequate. The events of the weekend of 13/14 March have done further damage to this and show that much more needs to be done.” 

Matt Parr, who led the HMICFRS inspection team, said after “reviewing a huge body of evidence” that condemnation of the Met’s actions was “unwarranted”.

He said: “Amidst a heightened public debate on women’s safety, and during an unprecedented pandemic, the Metropolitan Police faced a complex and sensitive policing challenge at Clapham Common.

“Condemnation of the Met’s actions within mere hours of the vigil – including from people in positions of responsibility – was unwarranted, showed a lack of respect for public servants facing a complex situation, and undermined public confidence in policing based on very limited evidence.

“After reviewing a huge body of evidence – rather than a snapshot on social media – we found that there are some things the Met could have done better, but we saw nothing to suggest police officers acted in anything but a measured and proportionate way in challenging circumstances.”