The Metropolitan Police has issued a public apology and agreed to pay compensation to two women who were handcuffed and arrested at a vigil for Sarah Everard, the young woman tragically murdered by police officer Wayne Couzens.
Patsy Stevenson and Dania Al-Obeid, who sued the police force over their handling of the event, have been vindicated by an official review that deemed the police response as “heavy-handed” and “tone-deaf”.
The images of officers forcefully pinning Ms Stevenson to the ground during the Clapham Common vigil in March 2021 ignited widespread outrage. The intensity of the anger was only amplified by the fact that Ms Everard’s killer was a serving police officer, leading the women to explicitly state their intention to hold a peaceful gathering.
Wayne Couzens kidnapped, raped, and murdered Ms Everard as she walked home on March 3, 2021, sparking nationwide protests regarding women’s safety in the UK.
The Metropolitan Police had initially blocked attempts by campaign group Reclaim These Streets to hold a socially distanced vigil, citing Covid restrictions that prohibited all gatherings.
However, the High Court later ruled that this interpretation of the regulations was unlawful, as it failed to consider the rights of freedom of expression and assembly. The exact amount of compensation has not been disclosed, but the women’s lawyers have described it as “substantial”.
Ms Stevenson, who was given a £200 fixed-penalty notice, expressed her belief that these events have exposed the “deeply embedded misogyny” within the police force. She also pledged to stand in solidarity with all those fighting against racist, misogynistic, or homophobic policing, emphasizing the importance of accountability and justice.
In a scathing review of the force’s standards and internal culture, Baroness Casey condemned the policing of the vigil and criticized the Metropolitan Police for their continued defensiveness and lack of humility.
She stated, “The Met failed to recognize the significance of the murder of Sarah Everard, why there was such anger and grief, and their role within that… This tendency to focus inwards… is a recurring feature of Met culture.”
Ms Stevenson, who resides in Egham, Surrey, emphasized the importance of pushing for accountability and justice. She expressed her concerns about the erosion of the right to protest and the undermining of this right by the Public Order Act.
She also criticised politicians for granting the Metropolitan Police greater powers despite the murder of Sarah Everard and the deeply embedded misogyny exposed within the force.
Ms Al-Obeid, one of the women who received compensation, stated that she felt “badly let down” by the police and described feeling abused and abandoned before, during, and after the vigil. She expressed a lack of trust and safety towards any police force and questioned their suitability as a frontline response to women who have experienced domestic or sexual violence.
The women’s lawyers have called on the Metropolitan Police to address concerns about the force’s failures in adequately tackling violence against women and girls.
The police, in response, claimed that they attempted to strike a balance between recognizing the public’s right to protest and express their grief while enforcing relevant COVID legislation. They insisted that the actions of individual officers were deemed appropriate by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabularies and were carried out in good faith.
The Metropolitan Police acknowledged that a protracted legal dispute would not be in the best interests of any party involved, particularly the complainants who have already endured significant distress as a result of the incident. They emphasized their ongoing commitment to making London a city where women and girls can feel safe.