Women Win Rights Case Against Met Police Over Ban on Sarah Everard Vigil

© REUTERS / Hannah Mckay / FILE PHOTO: Memorial site at the Clapham Common Bandstand, following the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard in LondonFILE PHOTO: Memorial site at the Clapham Common Bandstand, following the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard in London
FILE PHOTO: Memorial site at the Clapham Common Bandstand, following the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard in London - Sputnik International, 1920, 11.03.2022
The High Court in London heard that police were more worried about their public image — after one of their own officers had abused his authority to abduct, rape and murder a young woman — than the rights of those who wished to protest against such violence.
Two judges have ruled that London's Metropolitan Police violated the rights of a group of women who organised a protest over the murder of Sarah Everard.
The High Court justices ruled on Friday that the force's decision to ban the 13 March 2021 demonstration on Clapham Common, from where Everard was abducted, raped, and murdered by serving Met Constable Wayne Couzens, breached their right to freedom of speech and assembly.
Lord Justice Warby and Mr Justice Holgate said the force's decision to forbid the event was "not in accordance with the law".
The case was brought by the protest's organisers Jessica Leigh, Anna Birley, Henna Shah, and Jamie Klingler from the Reclaim These Streets (RTS) group.
Police threatened the four women with fines of £10,000 each and potential criminal prosecution if they did not cancel the demonstration, claiming it was illegal under COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.
But even after they complied, hundreds of women — including Prince William's wife Kate Middleton — turned up for a night-time silent vigil in the busy inner London park. They were met with a heavy police presence and several were forcibly arrested.
The case's hearing in January heard how, at a Met gold command meeting the day before the vigil, one officer said "we are seen as the bad guys at the moment and we don't want to aggravate this".

"The most significant 'threat' identified was not public health but the perceived reputational risk to the (force), including in the event they were perceived to be permitting or facilitating the vigil", the complainants' barrister Tom Hickman QC said.

The Metropolitan Police Service "failed to perform its legal duty to consider whether the claimants might have a reasonable excuse for holding the gathering", Warby ruled on Friday.
"The relevant decisions of the (Met) were to make statements at meetings, in letters, and in a press statement, to the effect that the Covid-19 regulations in force at the time meant that holding the vigil would be unlawful", he added. "Those statements interfered with the claimants' rights because each had a 'chilling effect' and made at least some causal contribution to the decision to cancel the vigil".
People observe a memorial site at the Clapham Common Bandstand, following the kidnapping and murder of Sarah Everard, in London, Britain, March 21, 2021 - Sputnik International, 1920, 10.01.2022
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In a statement following the court victory, the women's solicitor Theodora Middleton said the ruling proved "the police were wrong to silence us".

"We came together one year and one day ago to organise a vigil on Clapham Common because Sarah Everard went missing from our neighbourhood. We felt sad and afraid", Middleton said. "We were angry that women still weren't safe and we were tired of the burden to stay safe always weighing on our shoulders".

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick announced her resignation last month after Mayor of London Sadiq Khan — who appointed her in 2017 — stated he had lost confidence in her leadership over allegations of racism in the force.
However, that came after Dick bowed to pressure from opposition parties to launch a criminal investigation into the "Partygate" affair at Downing Street — which backfired on them when it caused a delay in releasing the findings of the official civil service probe.
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