Sarah Everard Vigil Organisers Win Court Ruling Against The Met: 'Victory For Women'

Police officers caused a public outcry last March when they tried to disrupt Reclaim These Streets' tribute to Everard.

Reclaim These Streets has just won a landmark case against the Metropolitan Police following officers’ interventions at Sarah Everard’s vigil last year.

As a collective which campaigns for women’s safety, RTS organised a tribute to Everard in March 2021 after it emerged the 33-year-old had been murdered by a then-member of the police force when walking home from a friend’s house.

Everard’s murder stunned the nation and caused an overwhelming outpouring of grief.

The Met refused to provide permission for the RTS event to go ahead, claiming it went against Covid lockdown regulations. Although RTS officially cancelled the event – inviting mourners to reflect at home – hundreds turned up to a spontaneous vigil in Clapham Common on March 10 2021, where Everard had been kidnapped before her death.

Officers then showed up, claiming the gathering was in breach of the social distancing rules in place at the time – and attempted to forcibly remove those leading the vigil.

Male officers could be seen grabbing women and leading them away from groups standing around the bandstand in handcuffs in footage home secretary Priti Patel described as “upsetting”.

Organisers said at the time that they had made “many suggestions” to police so that their original event would comply with Covid restrictions, including splitting it into different time slots.

However, police told them going ahead with a vigil could risk a £10,000 fine for each of them, and possible prosecution, so RTS withdrew from organising it.

The four women behind the collective then brought a legal challenge against the Met over the vigil, claiming their intervention was a breach to the human rights to protest.

On Friday, RTS announced that the High Court had ruled in their favour, and claimed it was “a victory for women”, demonstrating the police “were wrong to silence us”.

Two senior judges overruled the Met’s claim that there were no exceptions for protest in the Covid rules at the time, and said that the force’s decisions running up to the event were “not in accordance with the law”.

In a statement, the collective explained: “The decisions and actions by the Met Police in the run up to the planned vigil for Sarah Everard last year were unlawful, and the judgement sets a powerful precedent for protest rights.”

They continued: “We organised it because as women we needed a space to stand together in solidarity, grief and defiance. And above all we organised it because it’s wrong that women face violence and harassment every single day.”

The group added that they “couldn’t have imagined the far-reaching implications of our decision to organise”, as the vigil triggered a national conversation on women’s safety.

“This case exposes the Metropolitan Police’s total disregard for women’s human rights to assembly and expression,” RTS said.

The group also hit out at the Met for doubling down on their techniques at the time.

Lord Justice Warby called the force’s decision and communications around this time “legally mistaken”, “simplistic”, “misinformed” and “misleading”.

In a summary of the ruling, the judge said the Met had “failed to perform its legal duty to consider whether the claimants might have a reasonable excuse for holding the gathering”.

He added: “The relevant decisions of the (Met) were to make statements at meetings, in letters, and in a press statement, to the effect that the Covid-19 regulations in force at the time meant that holding the vigil would be unlawful.

“Those statements interfered with the claimants’ rights because each had a ‘chilling effect’ and made at least some causal contribution to the decision to cancel the vigil.”

RTS also expressed a desire for the ruling to have a knock-on effect, by making Parliament reconsider granting police greater powers to push back public protests in the upcoming Police, Courts, Sentencing and Crime Bill.

The group also acknowledged that it was privileged to be able to take the case to the High Court, while suggesting the police do not appeal the decision as that would “further erode women’s trust in the force”.

Assistant Commissioner Louise Rolfe said the Met was “considering the judgement very carefully before deciding whether to appeal”.


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