UK watchdog: Police acted correctly at vigil for slain woman

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FILE - In this file photo dated Saturday, March 20, 2021, floral tributes and messages surround the bandstand on Clapham Common in London after the nearby disappearance of Sarah Everard. A U.K. police watchdog said Tuesday March 30, 2021, that officers did not behave in a heavy-handed manner when they broke up a vigil for Sarah Everard, who disappeared while walking home in London and was later found murdered. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali, FILE)

LONDON – A U.K. police watchdog said Tuesday that officers didn't behave “in a heavy-handed manner” when they broke up a vigil for a London woman whose killing sparked an outcry about women's safety.

Matt Parr, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, said officers at the vigil in memory of Sarah Everard acted in "a measured and proportionate way in challenging circumstances.”

Everard, a 33-year-old London resident, was last seen walking home from a friend’s apartment on the evening of March 3. Her body was later found hidden in woodland more than 50 miles (80 kilometers) away. A serving police officer has been charged with murder.

Hundreds of people gathered March 13 on London’s Clapham Common to remember Everard and protest violence against women, despite a ban on mass gatherings because of the coronavirus pandemic. Images of police officers tussling with women at the peaceful rally, and leading some away in handcuffs, drew strong criticism.

Parr said the gathering presented “a complex and sensitive policing challenge” and police had acted appropriately to disperse people when the vigil turned into “a rally with dense crowds and little or no social distancing.”

He said criticism of the force, including from some senior politicians, had been “unwarranted” and had undermined public confidence in the police.

He acknowledged, however, that there was “insufficient” communication between police commanders on the ground, and said the Metropolitan Police force could have taken a “more conciliatory” approach after the event.

Reclaim These Streets, the group that called the vigil after Everard’s death, said the report was “disappointing” and demonstrated “institutional sexism running through the force.”

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who had earlier criticized the police response, said he accepted the report, “but it is clear that trust and confidence of women and girls in the police and criminal justice system is far from adequate.”