On Saturday evening, daughters, fathers and mothers of daughters and siblings of daughters gathered in Clapham Common at a vigil. Facing these police officers were hundreds of people seeking to remember Sarah Everard. What followed was a clash that turned what could have been a respectful memorial into a moment of apparently callous state repression threatening the future of the Met’s first female Commissioner, Cressida Dick.
Dick has called out the armchair critics of her officers’ actions in Clapham. But make no mistake: the Met Police is in the dock. And Dick’s condemnation of those criticising her force won’t wash, either for politicians or the senior leadership of the Met, who jointly carry the can.
Both had ample opportunity to evaluate the community impact of this murder, its unique and troubling characteristics and the genuine rage these all engendered. It is a grim statistical fact that the people women should fear the most are the ones they wake up with. But the apparent abduction and murder of a young woman, taken off the streets and slain for the ‘crime’ of being out late, has catalysed the debate about violence against women and girls.
We now know that in the intervening ten days between Sarah’s disappearance, the arrest of Met officer Wayne Couzens and the planned vigil, the Met’s top brass and the original vigil organisers were in contact with each other. We’ve also learned that London’s Mayor, who is responsible for the totality of policing in London (unless things look bad), stuck his oar in too and that a conversation took place with the police minister Kit Malthouse. It defies belief that this coalition of highly paid – and, one hopes, tactically savvy heavyweights – could not foresee the consequences of simply banning an expression of heartfelt grief and solidarity.
What happened next is the consequence of bad law meeting bad judgement in a pandemic.