Clashes break out as crowd gathers to honour Sarah Everard

Hundreds of people defied police requests to gather at Clapham Common on Saturday evening as others held virtual vigils in memory of Sarah Everard.

Saturday, 13th March 2021, 8:44 pm
Updated Saturday, 13th March 2021, 8:50 pm
A woman is arrested during a vigil for Sarah Everard on Clapham Common on March 13, 2021 in London

Some clashes broke out as emotions ran high at the gathering in south London, close to where 33-year-old Ms Everard disappeared.

Officers surrounded the bandstand, where people have laid flowers, and members of the crowd could be heard shouting “shame on you”.

An official vigil was cancelled – as were others across the UK – due to coronavirus restrictions, but a virtual event was held at 6pm in which campaigners called for more to be done to tackle violence against women.

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A minute’s silence was held and candles were lit during the online vigil hosted by Feminists of London, with television presenter Sandi Toksvig calling for Ms Everard’s death to be a “turning point”.

In Clapham, one video posted online showed officers grabbing women standing within the bandstand before leading them away, to screaming and shouting from onlookers.

Campaign group Sisters Uncut, which had representatives present at the demonstration, claimed that “male police officers waited for the sun to set before they started grabbing and manhandling women in the crowd”.

The Metropolitan Police was criticised for its policing of the gathering, with one MP describing it as “heartbreaking and maddening to watch”.

Labour’s Sarah Owen added: “No one can see these scenes and think that this has been handled anything but badly by @metpoliceuk. It could and should have been so different.”

Charlotte Nichols, shadow minister for women and equalities, tweeted: “If @metpoliceuk had put the resources into assisting @ReclaimTS to hold the covid-secure vigil originally planned that they put into stopping any collective show of grief and solidarity (both through the courts and a heavy-handed physical response), we’d all be in a better place.”

Opening the online event, television presenter Sandi Toksvig said she had never “felt more passionately concerned about my kids”.

She said: “It surely cannot be asking too much to want them simply to be free, to walk where they like, when they like.

“I am filled in equal measure with profound sorrow and rage, and I know there are many who share this rage and I think it is entirely justifiable. But I also know that it will harm rather than help us if we don’t try and direct that anger to good purpose.”

She added that it was not a “small change” that was needed, but a “cultural shift about how women are viewed and treated both in the public and private space”.

“This has to be a turning point where ending violence finally becomes a political priority,” she said.

Mandu Reid, the leader of the Women’s Equality Party, echoed these sentiments, adding: “The way to truly honour Sarah and every other woman we’ve lost is to demand that politicians of all stripes treat violence against women and girls as a political and policing priority.”

She said: “The pain and poignancy of this moment lies in the devastating fact that all women and every girl lives under the perpetual threat that what happened to Sarah could happen to any one of us.

“The reality for women and girls is that the harassment we experience, which is as omnipresent as the air we breathe, could escalate at any time.”

Reclaim These Streets, which had planned to hold the Clapham vigil before it was cancelled, also urged people to take part in a doorstep vigil at 9.30pm on Saturday, with the group saying it would be joining people across the country and “shining a light, a candle, a torch, a phone, to remember Sarah Everard and all the women affected by and lost to violence”.

They added: “We aren’t just lighting a candle for the women we’ve lost: we have been inspired by the women who have reached out and hope this is just the start of a movement that will light a fire for change.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would light a candle for Ms Everard with his fiancee Carrie Symonds, adding that he would be thinking of the 33-year-old’s family and friends.

“I cannot imagine how unbearable their pain and grief is. We must work fast to find all the answers to this horrifying crime,” he said.

“I will do everything I can to make sure the streets are safe and ensure women and girls do not face harassment or abuse.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel said she would also be lighting a candle, and added that almost 20,000 people had responded in 24 hours to a consultation on how the Government could tackle violence against women and girls.

“That is completely unprecedented & we will carefully consider responses,” she tweeted.

The Duchess of Cambridge was among those to visit the make-shift memorial at Clapham Common on Saturday to pay her respects, and was seen pausing in front of the sea of flowers.

Meanwhile, a fundraiser set up by Reclaim These Streets for women’s charitable causes passed its target of £320,000 on Saturday evening.

On Friday, a High Court judge refused to intervene on behalf of the group in a legal challenge over the right to gather for a protest during coronavirus restrictions.

On Saturday, the group said that despite their attempts to work with police to ensure the Clapham vigil could proceed safely, they now felt it could not go ahead.

Organisers said they had made “many suggestions” to police, including splitting the event into different time slots – but that they were told going ahead with a vigil could risk a £10,000 fine each for each woman organising.

A number of police forces across the country also issued statements urging people not to attend the in-person events, instead encouraging people to move online.

A vigil planned for Ms Everard’s home city of York was cancelled and organisers urged people to post a photo of a candle in their window or doorway, while events in Coventry and Birmingham were also cancelled.

The fundraising target of £320,000 by Reclaim These Streets was set to mirror the fines which might have been issued had the vigils gone ahead, with the aim to raise £10,000 for each of the 32 vigils which organisers said had been scheduled.

Caitlin Prowle, from Reclaim These Streets, said the group had not wanted to end up in a situation they were having to raise funds to pay fines, rather than for charitable causes.

She said the money would “just go straight back into a system” that “continues to fail” women.

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