Police forces were warned not to allow planned vigils by thousands of people in dozens of towns and cities to honor the memory of Sarah Everard this weekend amid frustration at “endemic” levels of violence against women and girls.
The Guardian learned that the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) told the forces of England and Wales on Friday that they could not give up the blockade guide that prohibits meetings, after it was discussed with the police minister. , Kit Malthouse. The document says that he is “supportive.”
But one force has decided it will allow vigils as long as they are socially distanced and people wear masks, The Guardian learned, reasoning that outdoor events would pose minimal risk of spreading infections.
Vigils were planned on Clapham Common, south London, and in at least two dozen other towns and cities in the wake of the alleged murder of Everard, whose body was identified Friday in a forest in Kent, more than a week after he disappeared on the way home to South London.
Whether the events would take place or not was at stake Friday night after a judge rejected a request from the organizers, Reclaim These Streets, to make a “tentative statement” that any outdoor gathering ban under the coronavirus regulations it was “subject to the right to protest.”
But Judge Holgate suggested that greater communication could be maintained between the organizers and the police “to address the enforcement of the regulations and [the rights to freedom of expression and assembly] to this particular event ”.
In a post-ruling statement, Reclaim These Streets said: “We are pleased that the judge has stated in a detailed ruling that the law does not prevent the police from allowing and facilitating protest in all circumstances. The judge has made it clear that the police must make their own decision as to whether the protest can go ahead and that must include a balancing act of proportionality.
“We call on the police to act within the law now and confirm that they will work with us to ensure that the protest can continue in the context of the overwhelming public response to the death of Sarah Everard.”
However, a statement from the Met urged people to “stay home or find a legal and safer way to express their opinions.”
In Scotland, it was announced that in-person vigils honoring Everard, due to be held in Edinburgh on Saturday, had been canceled by organizers in favor of an online-only event.
Cressida Dick, the Met Commissioner, visited Clapham Common on Friday night, walking with police officers and speaking to the public in the park.
In response to a flood of public anger and fear, the government reopened its consultation on violence against women and girls on Friday to allow the thousands of stories of abuse and violence experienced by women to feed into government policy.
Nimko Ali, a government adviser and activist on violence against women, said the women had experienced Everard’s disappearance and death as a “collective pain”. “It is as if our wounds have reopened, but when a wound opens, it is a good time to use antibiotics. This is a time to use our platforms and our privileges and make sure we make changes. “
Organizers of the vigil in Clapham, near where Everard was last seen, have been locked in a legal battle with Met police since Thursday, when the force, after apparently initially seeking to work with organizers, said that the meeting would be illegal under the current blockade. restrictions.
They told organizers they could face tens of thousands of pounds in fixed fine notices and criminal prosecution, the group said.
At the emergency hearing, Holgate also declined to make a statement that an alleged metropolitan police policy of “prohibiting all protests, regardless of the specific circumstances” was illegal.
The NPCC document is a rare attempt to forge a common approach among the 43 forces in England and Wales. He says “we understand the strength of sentiment,” but emphasizes that Covid regulations do not allow for large gatherings. It says that the vigils must be held “in accordance with the law.” Currently, two people can get together to exercise in England.
A senior officer of a force that has decided to allow the vigils said: “This is a gray area and it is all about reasonableness. The rules are far from clear and have yet to be proven in court. We have discretion, we choose which laws we enforce and when. If you think we are going to tell people after the alleged murder of a woman [that] you cannot make a vigil, you are in the land of the cuckoo of the clouds. People have to use common sense. “
In a sign of rising tensions, Labor Deputy Leader Angela Rayner added her voice to those calling for the vigils to be allowed to continue, saying: “Women’s voices must not be silenced.”
Rayner said he would like police to work with organizers to ensure that the demonstrations could take place safely despite lockdown restrictions. “There has been a protest, a torrent of long-term problems faced by many women and many girls in this country. And that is the fear of not being able to go out, that fear of being attacked and the domestic violence that has increased, “she told Sky News.
“I hope that we can come to a solution where the protest can continue in a way that is safe for Covid, that we can work with the police to make sure that happens because the voice of women cannot be silenced. This is a time when people need to stand up and listen. ” The Women’s Parliamentary Labor Party, which represents female Labor MPs, also supported the planned vigils.
Activists and women across the UK have called for social change and a policy review to address the violence that kills a woman at the hands of a man every three days, according to the Census of Femicides.
In the past 12 months there has been a global and national increase in domestic violence and an increase in reports of rape, even as the number of prosecutions has collapsed. A survey conducted by UN Women in the UK this week revealed that almost all young women have experienced sexual harassment in public places.
Andrea Simon, director of Ending Violence Against Women, said the problem is now endemic. “It is well known that men who commit violence against women and girls are known to do so over and over and often against a number of women,” she said. “For this to be a tipping point, we need solutions that address the behavior of the perpetrators, not those that focus on the actions of the women who are targeted.”
The Women’s Equality Party has urged all women to share the text messages they send to try to stay safe using #EnoughIsEnough at 9:00 p.m. on Friday, which they will present to the government.
Everard’s disappearance while walking home around 9:30 pm on March 3, and the subsequent discovery of her body in a forest in Kent, have led many women to share their personal experiences of harassment and abuse.
Labor MP Stella Creasy, who has campaigned for misogyny to become a hate crime, said the volume of voices calling for action represented “anger at the violence, abuse and harassment that is such an important part of the daily life of women throughout the country ”.
He added: “Making misogyny a hate crime would be a start to change both the way these crimes are dealt with and the culture of our policing, both actions that must be done for a long time in a society that wants to ensure that everyone be free to live their lives. and not under attack simply because of who they are. “
A government spokesperson said: “All our thoughts are with Sarah’s family and friends at this terrible time, and the government recognizes why so many women and girls across the country want to pay their respects. We are still in the middle of a pandemic, so we urge people to do this safely and continue to avoid mass rallies. ”
Reclaim These Streets’ Jessica Leigh, who is also a Lambeth councilor, said she hoped the tragic events would spur a national debate. “We hope this can be the beginning of a conversation about safety and women’s rights.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism