London police have defended their response to a vigil in the British capital for the murder of a young woman on Saturday in a statement after they received criticism for their approach to the unauthorised gathering.
Hundreds of people gathered in the city to pay tribute to a young woman, Sarah Everard, who was murdered by a police officer, but tensions erupted after the police intervened as the coronavirus fighting measures in place were being violated.
“We accept that the actions of our officers have been questioned. We absolutely did not want to be in a position where enforcement action was necessary. But we were placed in this position because of the overriding need to protect people’s safety,” Assistant Commissioner Helen Ball said in a statement on Sunday.
The statement came in response to criticism from politicians and other activist groups about their response to the candlelight vigil, which involved police subduing the protesters and handcuffing them.
The scenes in Clapham this evening are deeply disturbing. Women came together to mourn Sarah Everard – they should have been able to do so peacefully.
I share their anger and upset at how this has been handled. This was not the way to police this protest.
— Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) March 13, 2021
Keir Starmer, the leader of the opposition Labour Party responded to the incident in the city’s Clapham region on Twitter, saying the scenes were “deeply disturbing”.
The organisers of the tribute, the “Reclaim the Streets” movement, had initially announced that the event, planned for Saturday, would not take place as police said the event was not authorised to go ahead under current restrictions imposed to fight the health crisis.
“Hundreds of people were standing in close proximity to each other, creating a high risk of the virus spreading. We repeatedly asked those present to comply with the laws and leave. Unfortunately, a small minority started shouting at the officers, pushing and throwing things,” said Ball.
Four people were eventually arrested for violating corona rules and public order, according to police.
Home Secretary of the UK, Priti Patel, has called for a full report on the events.
On Friday night, Wayne Couzens, a member of the London police’s diplomatic protection unit, was charged with the kidnapping and murder of Everard, aged 33, who disappeared on 3 March.
He is due to appear at the Old Bailey court in London next Tuesday.
The Brussels Times