A senior Metropolitan Police officer has refused to apologise for the aggressive actions of officers at the vigil for Sarah Everard at Clapham Common.
Deputy Commissioner Sir Stephen House said his officers were “doing their duty as they saw it” to enforce legislation at the event on Saturday.
The vigil, in memory of Everard, had originally been organised by the protest group Reclaim These Streets, which was forced to cancel it after police said it would be in breach of coronavirus rules.
However, crowds still gathered to remember the 33-year-old marketing executive, whose death has led to an outpouring of grief and anger at violence against women.
While largely peaceful, police officers were accused of heavy-handedness after some women were pinned to the ground and handcuffed.
Speaking to the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee on Wednesday, Sir Stephen said he understood that the force’s actions had upset people but his officers had believed they were doing the right thing.
He added: “I understand that their actions have upset people and we see the evidence of that on a daily basis and we do not underestimate the upset that has been caused, but the officers took their actions believing they were doing the right thing to protect people’s health, they were following legislation put in place by parliament to protect the public in the middle of a health crisis.
“That health crisis has not yet gone away. I can’t apologise for my officers. I am sorry of course that people are so upset at seeing officers enforcing legislation but the officers were doing their duty as they saw it and I will not second guess that at this moment in time.”
Sir Stephen told the committee that between midday and 6pm the vigil had complied with Covid regulations.
But he said that after this people had tried to make speeches from the bandstand causing the crowd to draw together in order to hear and added: “We believe that when the crowd density increased, Covid regulations were no longer being followed.”
He told the committee that officers at the vigil were faced with an “incredibly difficult situation” and had been met with abuse for trying to disperse the crowds.
Sir Stephen added that officers had tried to issue fines but when people refused to give their names and addresses they were left with a choice of dropping the fines or making arrests.
He said: “The officers decided to proceed and make arrests for failing to give the information and also in one case a public order offence.”
Sir Thomas Winsor, chief inspector of constabulary, is to carry out a review into the way the event was policed.
Sir Stephen said the force fully supports the independent review and added that it was already passing on the information required.
He said: “We want to ensure that the facts of what happened are fully understood, that we are completely transparent in what happened, and that the public understand why we acted as we did.”
Sir Stephen also said there was a sense of “disbelief, anger and betrayal” in the force that an officer had been charged with the kidnap and murder of Everard.
Speaking to the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee on Wednesday he said the “abhorrent action” did not reflect the Met he knew.
Serving Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens, 48, has been charged with Ms Everard’s kidnapping and murder.