London police criticised for clashes at vigil for murdered woman


London police faced criticism and calls for investigations after clashing with crowds at a memorial for murder victim Sarah Everard whose death has sparked widespread anger and fear about women's safety.

Police told organisers of events to honour Everard planned in London and around the country that public gatherings would be in breach of COVID-19 restrictions and could lead to fines up to 10,000 pounds.

Organisers at Reclaim These Streets said they had cancelled a vigil on Clapham Common in south London near where Everard, 33, was last seen 10 days ago. Other events around the country were also cancelled.

But hundreds of women and men - including Kate, Duchess of Cambridge - went to Clapham Common during the day to leave flowers and drawings at a memorial to Everard.

As more people arrived during the evening, some chanting "sisters united will never be defeated", police stormed in and tried to disperse the crowds gathered around a bandstand. Video footage showed scuffles and some women forced to the floor.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said the scenes from Clapham Common were "unacceptable".

"The police have a responsibility to enforce Covid laws but from images I've seen it's clear the response was at times neither appropriate nor proportionate," Khan said on Twitter.

"I'm in contact with the Commissioner & urgently seeking an explanation."

British interior minister Priti Patel said "some of the footage circulating online from the vigil in Clapham is upsetting".

"I have asked the Metropolitan Police for a full report on what happened," she said on Twitter.

Everard, a marketing executive, disappeared while walking home from a friend's house at about 9:30 pm on March 3. Her body was later found in woods near southeast England.

Serving London police officer Wayne Couzens, 48, appeared in court on Saturday charged with her kidnap and murder.

Her killing has led many women to share their fears of walking alone and experiences of being harassed or attacked by men in public, with calls for more action to be taken to address violence against women and abuse.

Currently England is in a national lockdown to stem the coronavirus pandemic and people cannot leave or be outside of their homes except with a "reasonable excuse" and can only be outside with one other person.

The head of London's Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick, said in a video on Twitter that Sarah Everard's death was a "terrible tragedy" that had caused shock and anger and she understood the desire for a major gathering but it was unsafe.

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