Two women who were arrested at a vigil for murdered marketing executive Sarah Everard have secured payouts from the Metropolitan Police.
Patsy Stevenson and Dania Al-Obeid were both detained at the event on Clapham Common in March 2021, held amid ongoing Covid restrictions.
An outpouring of anger at Ms Everard’s murder by a serving police officer led to hundreds of people attending the event, including the Princess of Wales.
The Met was criticised for its heavy handling of the later stages of the vigil, with outrage that some women were bundled to the ground, and its “tone-deaf” reaction to the negative reaction in the aftermath.
“Tiring and difficult process”
Ms Stevenson said: “It has taken over two years to reach this conclusion, it’s been a really tiring and difficult process but it has felt important to push for some form of accountability and justice for myself and all women who attended the vigil to express our anger and grief over the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Metropolitan Police officer.”
The event was originally planned by campaign group Reclaim These Streets, which cancelled the protest after Met officers threatened organisers with £10,000 fines under lockdown rules in place at the time.
But members of the public attended anyway, with no police intervention for around six hours before clashes occurred.
Commander Karen Findlay wrote in letters to both women: “I wish to emphasise that I fully acknowledge that your motivations in attending the vigil were to express your grief and anger regarding the circumstances of the tragic murder of Sarah Everard, and to express the level of concern and dissatisfaction felt by you and many other women who were understandably feeling badly let down by the Met.
“The policing plan for the vigil was devised to provide an opportunity for members of the public to attend in order to express their grief and anger.
“Acknowledging that the fundamental right to protest remained, the circumstances at the time of the vigil – namely that we were in the midst of the Covid‐19 pandemic ‐ presented an extremely difficult challenge for policing and the officers present due to the need to balance the potential risk such a gathering could pose to public health.
“That aside, I appreciate the anger, frustration and alarm your arrest undoubtedly caused you, exacerbated by the subsequent proceedings, and I regret that your opportunity to express your grief and anger was curtailed by your arrest and removal.”
A legal battle rumbled on long after the vigil with the original RTS organisers successfully arguing that their right to protest had been breached by the Met.
Ms Al-Obeid said: “I have found this journey incredibly difficult but very important as a survivor of domestic violence and someone who has been failed by the police in that context.
“I appreciate that the Met Police have acknowledged our motivations for attending it but ‘badly let down’ is an understatement.
“I have felt abused, abandoned by the police prior to, during and post the vigil – I do not feel protected or safe with any police force.”
Rachel Harger, the women’s solicitor from Bindmans LLP representing said: “I am glad that the Met have finally acknowledged that those who attended the vigil had the fundamental right to protest the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met officer.
“Protests are as vital as they have ever been, without them, injustices will be unchallenged and people will lose confidence in democratic processes by which things can change.”
A spokesperson for the Met said: “The Clapham Common vigil took place in extraordinary circumstances, in the midst of a pandemic where restrictions on gatherings were in force for very valid public health reasons and in the days immediately following the most appalling murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met officer.
“We tried to achieve a balance that recognised the rights of the public to protest and to express their grief and sadness, while also continuing to enforce the relevant Covid legislation.
“The actions of individual officers were found by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabularies to have been appropriate. They acted in good faith, interpreting complex and changing legislation in very challenging circumstances in a way that was entirely consistent with their colleagues working across London at the time.
“A protracted legal dispute is not in the interests of any party, least of all the complainants who we recognise have already experienced significant distress as a result of this incident.
“The most appropriate decision, to minimise the ongoing impact on all involved, was to reach an agreed settlement.”