A review has found that British police "acted appropriately" during a crackdown at a vigil for murder victim Sarah Everard in March, which saw a number of women arrested and physically restrained.
Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services said that police officers did their best to disperse the crowd, remained calm and professional despite being subjected to abuse, and were not heavy-handed in how they dealt with the crowd.
It said that there was insufficient communication between senior police commanders about what was happening at the rally on Clapham Common, which had been held despite restrictions on gatherings in the UK due to the coronavirus pandemic.
It also said that the Metropolitan police could have been "more conciliatory" in its response to the outcry over the crackdown on the rally, during which male police officers physically restrained female protesters, images of which were shared widely on social media.
“Amidst a heightened public debate on women’s safety, and during an unprecedented pandemic, the Metropolitan Police faced a complex and sensitive policing challenge at Clapham Common," said Matt Parr, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, who led the inspection team.
“Condemnation of the Met’s actions within mere hours of the vigil – including from people in positions of responsibility – was unwarranted, showed a lack of respect for public servants facing a complex situation, and undermined public confidence in policing based on very limited evidence."
“After reviewing a huge body of evidence – rather than a snapshot on social media – we found that there are some things the Met could have done better, but we saw nothing to suggest police officers acted in anything but a measured and proportionate way in challenging circumstances.
Parr said that after a minute’s silence was held for Everard at 6 pm, "a peaceful and sombre vigil turned into something else – a rally with dense crowds and little or no social distancing.
"We concluded that the Met was right to recognise the need to be seen to be consistent in its policing of all events and gatherings. They were, therefore, right to enforce the regulations – having gone to some lengths to persuade people to disperse.”
Everard went missing on 3 March while walking home from visiting friends in south London. Her body was later found in a wooded area south-east of the capital in Ashford, Kent. A police officer, Wayne Couzens, was later charged with her kidnap and murder.