Organisers of the Reclaim These Streets vigil on Clapham Common this Saturday have told The Big Issue they are continuing with preparations for the event despite police warnings it could be unlawful under Covid-19 legislation.
More than 4,000 people have said they will attend a gathering close to the spot in London where Sarah Everard went missing on March 3. Police arrested a serving police officer in connection with her murder on March 9 and found “human remains” in woodland in Kent on March 10.
The 33-year-old’s disappearance has led to an outpouring of grief and anger online, with thousands of women highlighting the issue of women’s safety and male violence on social media.
But the Metropolitan Police has been accused of attempting to “silence” women who want to honour Sarah’s memory by refusing to let Saturday’s vigil go ahead.
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Jamie Klingler, a publisher who is organising the event, told The Big Issue that Reclaim These Streets is working with human rights lawyers and hoped the High Court would hear the case on Friday.
Klingler said: “We’re doing all the background work that we were doing anyway to make sure we can have a Covid-safe vigil.
“We’re doing all of that but we don’t know until the court decides whether or not we will be allowed.”
The Metropolitan Police said in a statement: “We understand the public’s strength of feeling and are aware of the statement issued by Reclaim The Streets with regard to a planned vigil for Sarah Everard in Clapham Common this weekend.
“We remain in discussion with the organisers about this event in light of the current Covid regulations.”
URGENT UPDATE: police want us to pull the event and are threatening to prosecute organisers. We're working with human rights lawyers to challenge this, but we need your help 👇👇#ReclaimTheseStreetshttps://t.co/HLkvZ4fNwK pic.twitter.com/NboEaFGLs0
— Reclaim These Streets (@ReclaimTS) March 11, 2021
On Thursday Reclaim These Streets raised £30,000 in less than three hours to pursue legal action. The organisers said they were “overwhelmed” by the response and worked with lawyers through the night.
Klingler insisted the event would be safe, saying they were recruiting “tonnes” of stewards who knew the area well and sourcing high-vis clothing, electric candles, hand sanitiser and masks.
“We’ll have the huge recruitment of stewards. [The vigil] is not moving so they will be able to make sure the crowd is socially distanced at all times,” she said.
“The whole thing is meant to be a moment of respect and silence. It’s for the women of the neighbourhood that don’t feel safe, that have had this horrible thing happen in their backyards and that they want to come together and show respect. It’s our human right to protest peacefully.”
Rallies have also been independently planned nationwide, including in Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Southampton and Bristol. All are advertised as Covid-friendly though some events are pending police approval.
Assistant Chief Constable Nick Bailey from Greater Manchester Police told the BBC they would be “looking closely” and talking to organisers about an event in Manchester.
Under England’s lockdown laws, protesters can be fined as much as £10,000 for attending mass gatherings.
“We’re compiling a list as there’s a lot [of events] planned we know about and even more planned we don’t,” Reclaim These Streets said on Twitter.
“This will help us keep everyone up to speed as today progresses and enable us to promote your amazing work all over the country.”
The London borough of Lambeth is aware of the Clapham Common vigil and has been informed, but pandemic laws mean the council cannot organise events during lockdown.
Greater Manchester Police say they're talking to Reclaim the Streets about whether an event in memory of Sarah Everard might be possible in Manchester tomorrow. ACC Nick Bailey told @BBCRadioManc they'll be looking closely at the rules governing gatherings and social distancing pic.twitter.com/n96B9MZWHF
— BBC Radio Manchester (@BBCRadioManc) March 12, 2021