Police ‘take no joy’ in refusing Sarah Everard vigils but warn people not to go
Police forces across the UK are warning people not to attend any events being held in memory of Sarah Everard as they will be breaking coronavirus rules.
The 33-year-old’s death has prompted an outpouring of grief from the public, with many women and girls sharing stories online of experiencing violence by men.
Sarah disappeared in south London as she walked from visiting a friend last Wednesday.
On Friday police said a body found in woodland in Kent was Sarah.
Her death has led to campaigners organising more than 30 events in cities and towns across the country including London, Birmingham, Manchester and Sheffield in memory of the marketing executive.
But the vigils have now switched to online events following stark warnings from police forces that organisers could be fined for breaking lockdown rules.
This includes one planned in Clapham Common, near where Sarah disappeared, which had been organised by Reclaim These Streets.
The organiser’s bid to overturn a police decision to ban it failed in court and the Met Police urged people to stay home.
On Saturday mourners laid flowers where the vigil should have taken place with some breaking down in tears.
Reclaim These Street are now asking everyone to take part in a doorstep vigil at 9.30pm where everyone holds a candle.
Grace Jessup, one of the organisers, said: “We are asking women to reclaim their right to take up space in public and not feel afraid – literally by sharing videos of themselves in any street and stating they ‘reclaim these streets’.”
Under the current lockdown rules in England, people are told to stay at home and can only gather in larger groups for limited reasons, such as funerals or for education.
Any other gathering is illegal and police can issue fines of £10,000 to organisers if there are more than 30 people.
Commander Catherine Roper, from the Met Police’s lead for Community Engagement, said: “I would like to thank the organisers of tonight’s vigil in Clapham Common for cancelling the gathering.
“We take no joy in this event being cancelled, but it is the right thing to do given the real and present threat of Covid-19.
“Throughout the week we have had a number of talks with the organisers of the vigil. These talks have undoubtedly been challenging and officers have worked hard to explain the regulations and why gatherings such as this cannot go ahead at this time.
“While we understand their frustrations of this cancellation and share the nation’s outrage at this crime, we must all continue to work together to fight Covid-19 and keep each other safe.”
Greater Manchester Police are encouraging people to take part in online events instead.
A spokesman said: “We understand there are a number of online events as well as a doorstep vigil that have been arranged for this evening and GMP absolutely supports these and encourages our communities to join them – they allow people to stand together over this important matter in a covid-safe way and in a way which complies with government regulations as they currently stand.
“The people of Greater Manchester have already sacrificed a huge amount to tackle the pandemic and keep people safe and we are urging our communities to continue to do the right thing. Please do not gather in large groups and put yourselves and others at risk of contracting and spreading the virus.”
Assistant Chief Constable Tim Forber from South Yorkshire Police echoed the warnings.
“We urge you to make your voices heard in a safe and Covid compliant way, be that virtually or in another way,” he said.
“Anyone attending a gathering in South Yorkshire will be in breach of current Covid-19 regulations and will be liable to be issued with a fixed penalty notice. Anyone identified as an organiser of an event will be issued with a £10,000 fine.
“We are still suffering the effects of a global pandemic and restrictions remain in place to protect our communities. We understand that this will be disappointing for many, but we must continue to stay at home and stay safe.”
An event in Liverpool was planned but has now been cancelled.
Merseyside Police thanked the organisers in a tweet saying: “We would like to thank the organisers of the Reclaim These Streets vigil for postponing their event until a time when it is safe and legal to do so without fear of attributing to potential spread of the coronavirus.”
Deputy Chief Constable Serena Kennedy of Merseyside Police had previously warned: “Society does need to take a strong stance against such attacks on women and we completely understand the concerns of those who support the Reclaim These Streets movement.
“Merseyside Police has made it very clear on numerous occasions that large public gatherings are not currently permitted under coronavirus legislation as they present a serious risk to public health.”
In The West Midlands there are two events planned in Birmingham and Coventry.
A West Midlands Police spokesman said: “We understand the strength of feeling and people’s desire to come together to mourn and show respect to Sarah Everard as well as to make a statement and organise on the issue of women’s safety.
“In normal circumstances we would be more than happy to facilitate such events to raise awareness for a hugely important issue.”
Birmingham councillor Nicky Brennan, who is also the founder of Baby Aid Birmingham, has called on people in the West Midlands to join the doorstep vigil tonight.
She tweeted: “Doorstep vigil 6pm – 6.20pm today. Please join us in lighting a candle on your doorstep or in your garden in memory of Sarah Everard. #ReclaimTheNightBrum #ReclaimTheNightBlackCountry”