Activism

Sarah Everard vigil organisers to take Met Police to court

Activist group Reclaim These Streets hope to raise the funds to challenge the police's decision to ban the March vigil for Everard's killing.

Flowers, candles and messages at the College Green vigil for Sarah Everard in Bristol. Image credit: Jamie Bellinger/jmblgr

Campaigners behind a planned vigil for Sarah Everard are hoping to take the Metropolitan Police to court over its decision to ban the event in March, a decision which has sparked weeks of rallies over the right to protest.

Activist group Reclaim These Streets had organised the vigil on Clapham Common after 33-year-old Everard disappeared as she walked home in Clapham on 3 March. Her body was discovered a week later in a woodland in Kent.

But the group was forced to cancel the event after police warned the vigil would be unlawful under coronavirus laws banning mass gatherings. Hundreds of women chose to attend the vigil regardless, some of whom were forcibly removed by officers in images that shocked the country

Three months on, Reclaim These Streets is attempting to raise £20,000 to fund a case against the police’s decision, claiming it was “not about women’s safety or preventing the spread of Covid” but an attempt “to silence us”. 

Jamie Klingler, one of the co-organisers of Reclaim These Streets, said this new case was about protecting the right for protest, regardless of potential future Covid-19 variants or lockdowns.

“What we’re trying to do is make sure that there’s always a right to protest, so it’s not up to the police to decide or interpret the law,” she told The Big Issue. “It needs to be out there in black and white that everyone has the human right to protest.”

The issue of police powers to impose restrictions on public protests seems more relevant than ever, as parliament considers the controversial The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill put forward by the government. The bill has been condemned as “draconian” by experts across the political spectrum and sparked months of protests under the slogan Kill The Bill.

Klingler said the police’s decision to ban the Clapham Common vigil – hours after a High Court judge refused to say whether it was permitted under Covid regulations – felt like a betrayal. 

“Not only did the Met interpret the law badly, they then tried to embarrass us by sending a press release while we were negotiating with them. They also added insult to injury by asking for court costs,” she continued.

By contrast, officers have stood peacefully as other demonstrations have been permitted to go ahead in the capital. “Why were we treated differently? Klingler asked. “Why were we specifically pointed out and threatened? 

“I absolutely felt silenced and that the police did not want to see us protest and publicly grieve for Sarah.”

Klingler has called for the resignation of Dame Cressida Dick – in contrast to a fellow Reclaim These Streets organiser who in March said she did not want the Met Police chief because she didn’t want to “add to the pile-on” of “the one of the most senior women in British policing history”.

“[Dame Cressida] has failed the women of London,” Klingler said. “The way she spoke about us was belittling. I don’t care that she’s a woman at the top of the heap, I don’t think she’s served us well.”

The group hopes that if the case proceeds then it could set legal precedent for people such as Karen Reismann, the frontline nurse who was handed a £10,000 fine for protesting over the government’s 1% pay rise for NHS workers. 

A statement on its fundraising page reads: “The vigil is in the past, but the case still matters hugely. Enshrining our right to protest in law is critical especially if there were to be another lockdown. They removed the exemption for the right to protest once and can do it again.”

The group has until Wednesday 25 June to raise £20,000 to take the case forward; to date, it has raised more than £18,000.

The Metropolitan Police refused to comment when approached by the Big Issue.

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