Police in London clashed with mourners and protesters on Saturday after more than a thousand people gathered to mark the murder of a 33-year-old woman, hours after police accused of her murder appeared in court.
Sarah Everard’s disappearance when she went home on the evening of March 3 had led to a wave of accounts from women about the dangers of walking the streets alone at night, and concerns about the failure of the police and society at large to address this.
Early on Saturday, an impromptu memorial with flowers and candles ran around the ribbon at Clapham Common in south-west London, near where Everard was said alive.
Kate, the Duchess of Great Britain of Cambridge, was among those who praised her respect. An official at the castle said Kate “remembers what it was like to walk around London the night before she got married”.
At the end of Saturday, about a thousand people – mostly women – gathered at the site to praise and protest against the lack of security they felt when they were alone. Some chanted “shame on you” at police officers who were present.
Campaign groups wanted to organize a formal guard, but London’s Metropolitan Police said people should not gather due to coronavirus restrictions.
The head of the board, Cressida Dick, said that any vigilant “would be illegal and unsafe”.
As tensions rose, Reuters witnesses saw police pull several women away from the gathering at Clapham Common.
Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Helen Ball said four people were arrested for violating public order and violating health protection ordinances.
“We absolutely did not want to be in a position where enforcement action was necessary,” Ball said in a statement. “But we were placed in this position because of the overriding need to protect human safety.”
London Mayor Sadiq Khan – who is in charge of police work in the city – said the officers’ response was “sometimes neither appropriate nor proportionate”, adding that he was seeking an urgent explanation from Dick.
Labor leader Keir Starmer called the scenes “deeply disturbing” and Conservative Interior Minister Priti Patel said she also wanted a response from police about “outrageous” images.
PM Johnson promises to work for safe streets
Earlier on Saturday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he and his partner Carrie Symonds would light a candle in Everard’s memory.
“I will do everything I can to make sure the streets are safe and to ensure that women and girls do not face harassment or abuse,” he said.
48-year-old police officer Wayne Couzens, wearing a gray tracksuit, spoke only to confirm his identity at London’s Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Saturday morning.
Couzen’s lawyer did not provide a basis for the allegations of kidnapping and murder ahead of a more extensive court hearing scheduled for Tuesday. Couzens are being held in custody.
Police discovered Everard’s body on Wednesday in woodland about 800 km southeast of London. The court heard that her body was found in a construction waste bag and identified using dental records.
Couzens joined the Metropolitan Police in 2018 and guarded foreign embassies before he was arrested.
The England Police Watchdog has launched an investigation into the Metropolitan Police’s handling of the case.