Anger over clashes in the capital as vigils held to honour murdered woman Sarah Everard from York

Condemnation has been cast over the policing of a vigil to honour Sarah Everard from York in the days following her death after clashes broke out in the capital.

A person lights a candle alongside floral tributes placed at the base of the statue of suffragist leader Millicent Fawcett, in Parliament Square in London, Yui Mok/PA Wire

People nationwide paused to pay tribute on Saturday or to light a candle for the 33-year-old, and to honour the violence faced by women in a campaign calling for action to Reclaim These Streets.

But organisers, forced to cancel a vigil on Clapham Common amid claims it would breach coronavirus restrictions, argue this escalated tensions when people turned up.

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After clashes broke out and arrests were made by officers from the Metropolitan Police, campaigners claim the force’s handling of events was a sign of the “systemic ignoring and oppressing of women”.

Now, a leading expert on policing protests has spoken of his frustration at watching interventions unfold.

There was “no need” for the Met to act in dispersing those gathered, said Owen West, a former Chief Superintendent who served a 30 year career with West Yorkshire Police and was responsible for public order and protest policing in the county.

“To see the way the police have dealt with the situation has really angered me,” said Mr West, who in his time oversaw tense marches in Bradford and Halifax. “For the life of me I can’t see why an intervention at that time and in that space would relate to the safety of that crowd.”

Mr West argued the Met should have worked with campaigners to facilitate a peaceful protest.

“On ethics and values it would have been the right thing to do,” he said. “Up and down the country the vast majority of protests are peaceful.”

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Police were “placed in a position where enforcement was necessary”, Scotland Yard has said, amid pressure to explain events.

Officers from the Metropolitan Police were seen grabbing several women, leading them away in handcuffs and the force later said four people were arrested for public order and coronavirus regulation breaches.

Assistant Commissioner Helen Ball said police were put into a position "where enforcement action was necessary".

She said: "Hundreds of people were packed tightly together, posing a very real risk of easily transmitting Covid-19.

"Police must act for people's safety, this is the only responsible thing to do. The pandemic is not over and gatherings of people from right across London and beyond, are still not safe.

"Those who gathered were spoken to by officers on a number of occasions and over an extended period of time. We repeatedly encouraged those who were there to comply with the law and leave. Regrettably, a small minority of people began chanting at officers, pushing and throwing items."

Campaign calls 'must be heeded'

Campaign calls to make the streets safer for women must be heeded, politicians in the region have said.

Leeds city councillor Al Garthwaite, among those to host a vigil to Sarah Everard this weekend, also helped to organise Reclaim the Night marches in 1977 in the time of the Yorkshire Ripper.

There had been anger then at the blaming of women for violence they were subjected to in the streets, she said, and while progress has been made there is more to be done.

“We have to make the streets safer for women,” the Labour councillor said.

“It was really important to have a vigil to mark this, not just for Sarah but for all women killed as a result of violence against them.”

Vigils were hosted live online across Yorkshire on Saturday evening, as people lit a candle in memory to Ms Everard who was originally from York.

In her former home city flowers were left outside the Minster in tribute to the 33-year-old, with those who attended in person encouraged to peacefully disperse.

In Halifax, there was a minute’s silence before a tribute in song, while in Leeds, women shared their own experiences before the names of those killed at the hands of Peter Sutcliffe were read out.

“To see women sharing their stories was extremely powerful,” said Coun Garthwaite. “It is vital that we remember all women who are subjected to male violence.”

Marketing executive Sarah Everard went missing while walking home from a friend’s flat in south London on March 3. Serving Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens, 48, has been charged with kidnap and murder.

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