Norfolk MPs condemn Met Police response to Sarah Everard vigil

Scenes from a vigil for Sarah Everard in Clapham Common, London

Scenes from a vigil for Sarah Everard in Clapham Common, London - Credit: Victoria Jones/PA

Norfolk MPs have moved to condemn the Metropolitan Police's handling of a vigil in the memory of murdered Sarah Everard.

On Saturday evening, hundreds of women gathered in Clapham Common to pay their respects to the 33-year-old who was abducted and killed while walking home from a friend's more than a week ago.

However, the peaceful demonstration resulted in a number of arrests and scenes of Met officers manhandling women have prompted anger across social media.

And as the startling images began to circulate, some of Norfolk's MPs took to Twitter to condemn the approach, with one describing it as "a terrible misjudgement".

George Freeman, Conservative MP for mid-Norfolk, wrote; "Terrible lockdown misjudgement by the Met Police this evening. Thousands of women gathered peacefully - joined quietly this afternoon by the future Queen - for a candlelit vigil to honour Sarah Everard, Reclaim The Streets, and the police get heavy-handed."

Clive Lewis, Labour MP for Norwich south, responded by harking to an earlier Tweet in which he condemned a government move to strengthen police powers to tackle non-violent protests.

Here, he wrote: "Whatever other elements may or may not be desirable in this bill, it's clear they're being used to give cover to this attack on OUR democracy. It must be opposed."

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He then responded to the vigil by sharing a photograph of a woman being restrained by police with the caption: "Here is what it looks like in practice."

And James Wild, Tory MP for north-west Norfolk, also condemned the approach, describing it as "appalling".

He wrote: "Policing is by consent. Tonight, the Met Police have failed and the scenes of women being manhandled at a vigil are appalling.

"When people understandably came despite advice not to, this wasn't the right way to do respond."

Around the time of the incident, Liz Truss, who represents the Conservatives in south-west Norfolk, wrote; "Thinking of Sarah Everard, her family, friends and all those touched by this appalling crime. We must stamp out the harassment and abuse of women."

Duncan Baker, MP for North Norfolk, said: “Quite right for there to be an immediate inquiry into the scenes from last night.

"Despite the organisers of the vigil deciding not to go ahead following discussions with police, and in line with current Covid regulations – it did.

"Whatever those rights and wrongs, the situation needed far more considerate handling than this. This should be a time to allow Ms Everard’s family and friends the time and space to grieve.”

But this morning, Scotland Yard has defended the approach, saying officers were "placed in a position where enforcement was necessary".

The force later said four people were arrested for public order and coronavirus regulation breaches.

Helen Ball, the Met's assistant commissioner, 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 minority of people began chanting at officers, pushing and throwing items."

Meanwhile, in Norwich, a small number of people turned up for a vigil at City Hall, where a single police officer was on hand.

The event stemmed from an event originally planned by Helen Serafinowicz, which was later moved on to Zoom after the government's guidance was released. However, a small group continued with the original plans for a live vigil.

Ms Serafinowicz said there were around 60 people on the Zoom call, and said it was a "calming" event. People were invited to light a candle in memory of Miss Everard and pay silent tribute.

"I think it just shows everybody's really upset about this and there's definitely an element of mistrust in the police, which is unsettling," she said.