Met Police faces court challenge after threatening organisers of Sarah Everard vigil with prosecution
Organisers of a vigil for Sarah Everard are going to the High Court after the Metropolitan Police said the gathering would be “unlawful”.
The Reclaim These Streets group were planning to hold a vigil at 6pm on Saturday (13 March) at Clapham Common, with sister events organised for other cities and towns, including Cambridge, Cardiff, Leeds and Liverpool.
Scotland Yard confirmed on Friday afternoon (12 March) that a body found in woodland near Ashford, Kent, during the search for for Ms Everard - who went missing as she walked home in south London last week - as hers.
A serving Met officer remains in custody having been held on suspicion of Ms Everard's kidnap and murder.
The Reclaim These Streets vigil was planned by a group of women "who wanted to channel the collective grief, outrage and sadness in our community".
The plan was to hold a socially distanced “short gathering on Clapham Common, centred around a minute of silence to remember Sarah Everard and all women lost to violence.”
The group said they “were always aware of the challenges of organising a Covid-secure vigil,” but reached out to Lambeth Council and the Metropolitan Police in order to ensure that the event could take place both safely and legally.
However, “after initially receiving a positive response,” and being told by the Met that they were “developing a local policing plan”, the police force has now reversed their position due to the Covid pandemic.
Metropolitan Police ‘wrong in their interpretation of the law’
Reclaim These Streets said in a statement that the Met “stated that the vigil would be unlawful” and that “as organisers, we could face tens of thousands of pounds in fixed penalty notices and criminal prosecution under the Serious Crimes Act.”
However, human rights lawyers have told Reclaim These Streets that the Met is “wrong in their interpretation of the law and that socially distant, outdoor gathering of this kind can be allowed under the current lockdown regulations, when read together with the Human Rights Act.”
The group set up a crowdfunding campaign on Thursday (11 March) to raise the £30,000 needed to cover potential legal costs. The amount raised currently stands at £37,260.
Reclaim These Streets is now planning to take its challenge to the High Court today (Fri 12 March), and will donate the money to a women's charity if they are successful.
"Should the judge decide against us, we may be liable for the Metropolitan Police's costs of up to £30,000. We will also be forced to cancel the vigil, and no women across England will be able to assemble to assert their rights,” the group said.
‘Initially we had feedback that they were looking at ways to navigate this’
One of the organisers of the vigil for Sarah Everard, Anna Birley, said that “Safety has been a priority from the get go.”
Ms Birley told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We proactively wrote to the police and the local council.
“Initially, we had feedback that they were looking at ways to navigate this, that they would be looking at how they could proportionately and appropriately provide community policing to the event.
“And we were in conversation about how we could do that safely so that people could express their anger and their grief without putting themselves or others at risk.
“We then had an about-face mid-afternoon yesterday. We were being put under increasing pressure that individually, we would be at risk for doing so, but as would everybody who attended and all of the women across the country potentially who have been organising sister vigils in their own areas.”