For a few hours at least last Sunday, the metropolitan police and their embattled commissioner appeared on the brink. Attacked from all sides for her handling of the Sarah Everard vigil on Clapham Common in London, there seemed a high chance that Dame Cressida Dick would have to resign from the force she has been in charge of since 2017.
Instead, she survived, as the Home Office and later Downing Street eventually signaled that they retained trust in her, despite disturbing scenes of her officers mistreating women.
But the support she received from Home Secretary Priti Patel immediately raised questions about what role, if any, she played behind the scenes in the run-up to Saturday night’s vigil.
A leaked memo to The Guardian offers some clues.
On Friday, as the police and the organizers of the vigil were going to court over the legality of such an event, a message was sent to all police chiefs to clarify Patel’s position.
He wanted them to arrest the people who gather at vigils. He also promised that he would personally urge people not to meet, but he never did.
Although the police are operationally independent, the Home Secretary had made her views clear, making her criticism of the way officers broke up the event particularly irritating, according to some police chiefs who spoke to The Guardian. .
As a result, some bosses feel police were “hanging to dry” when they criticized images of officers mistreating women on Clapham Common, reprimanded the Met commissioner and then ordered an investigation.
A police chief told The Guardian that the message from Patel and the government before the vigils had been clear, that the ban on gatherings should be enforced.
Now there is a lot of tension between the police and the ministers. A government source responded to police complaints, saying that “pinning the women to the ground and dragging them out of the Clapham Common kiosk was a separate operational decision” taken by the police themselves.
Police chiefs and Police Minister Kit Malthouse held a meeting on Friday morning in which they supported the ban. Following those discussions, a memorandum was sent to all police chiefs in England, from Operation Talla, the codename for the national police coordination effort for the Covid pandemic.
The Guardian learned what the document said and how it revealed what police believe Patel expected them to do if people gathered to mourn the 33-year-old marketing executive.
Entitled “Vigils Following the Sarah Everard Murder Investigation,” it begins “Dear Police Officers” and advises “early engagement” with the organizers of the planned vigils.
Then, the document of the Council of Chiefs of National Police says: “We understand the strength of the feeling. Covid regulations do not allow large gatherings.
“This issue has been discussed with the police minister this morning, who supports our position. In support of this, the Home Secretary will also issue a message to the public later today that will discourage people from meeting in person. “
The document then sets out what the police were expected to do, having stated that this position had government support. It says: “The people must carry out their vigil using alternative means and in accordance with the law.
“The police must take a consistent approach and cannot waive the regulations for any type of assembly.”
There was no question, high-level law enforcement sources said, what the government wanted done as forces struggled to know how to act. One chief said: “The chiefs would have thought there was a clear understanding that the government was requiring us to enforce the regulations.”
However, what ministers saw unfold on Saturday exceeded their expectations. Patel tweeted comments saying the scenes of women being dragged by male police officers were “disturbing.”
She demanded a report and then on Sunday is said to have given Dick a reprimand, saying his explanation was unsatisfactory and ordered an investigation.
On Sunday, the Interior Ministry issued a statement that said: “The Secretary of the Interior has read the report provided by the metropolitan police and feels that there are still questions to be answered. In order to ensure public confidence in the police, the Home Secretary this afternoon asked Her Majesty’s Police Inspectorate to carry out a review of the ‘lessons learned’ on policing the event on Clapham Common. “
HMIC is a police watchdog that independently assesses the effectiveness and efficiency of police forces.
Later Sunday, Patel let it be known that he had “full confidence” in the commissioner, which followed a similar statement from the prime minister. The investigation will be conducted by Matt Parr and should be done within fifteen days. He is the author of a controversial protest report published last week.
On Monday, Patel appeared in the House of Commons and told MPs that he had been in contact with the police before the vigils, especially with Dick, but only said that he had said that leaving the flowers at the vigils would be allowed.
It was not the full endorsement the police expected. Another source said that Patel’s conviction after the clashes had angered the police: “Their line was that the law is the law. The bosses believed that there was agreement that there would be no meetings or special favors and that the secretary of the interior would say something on Friday or Saturday.
“She reneged on a commitment that had been entrusted to them [the chiefs] and then he screwed up the commissioner. They feel like they have hung them to dry, when they expected it [the home secretary] align itself and the government with the approach they had agreed to.
“They were told to apply the law, which meant there were no meetings due to Covid.”
A Whitehall source defended Patel: “Of course the government will believe that the law must be followed. How it is enforced is a matter for the police.
“As the government’s statement made clear, the vigil could not take place within the confines of Covid regulations and we encourage individuals to participate in the vigil by adhering to the guidelines.
“The decision to start pinning the women to the ground and dragging them away from the Clapham Common bandstand was a separate operational decision made by them, so they will have to explain it to the inspection.”
The Met said it only performed on Clapham Common when the crowd became dense and it believed Covid rules were being broken.
But Patel’s sympathy for the women in the vigil was undermined by his own legislative agenda. The government’s police, crime, sentencing and courts bill was voted on at its second reading in parliament, bringing it one step closer to becoming law this week.
The bill contains measures that significantly increase the powers of the police to deal with protests. Critics, including women who attended the Clapham Common vigil, fear it will restrict the right to protest.
On Monday night, after Patel appeared in the House of Commons, more protests over the bill erupted in central London, intertwined with actions in response to Everard’s death.
In response, the government suggested that plainclothes police officers could patrol bars and nightclubs across the country and pledged to double funding from the Safer Streets fund in an effort to take “immediate steps to bring more peace of mind” to women and men. girls
Meanwhile, the Met police went on to say that they understood that their actions upset people, but that they would not apologize. Deputy Force Commissioner Sir Stephen House told the London assembly that he “cannot apologize for my officers” for their handling of the vigil.
And despite facing requests for his resignation, Dick remains in his place. A Whitehall source said he had a “good working relationship” with the home secretary.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism