Organisers of a vigil in response to the disappearance of Sarah Everard are taking legal action today after claiming police reversed a decision on allowing it to go ahead.
They said there had been an ‘about-face’ by the Metropolitan Police and were told Saturday’s Reclaim These Streets event would not be permitted due to the lockdown.
Downing Street said Boris Johnson ‘completely understands the strength of feeling’ around Ms Everard’s disappearance, but urged people to abide by coronavirus restrictions.
The group is seeking an order in the High Court today, challenging the force’s interpretations of Covid-19 restrictions when read against human rights law.
Scotland Yard declared the vigil unlawful but said the Met remains in discussion with organisers ‘in light of the current Covid regulations’.
Senior Conservative MP Caroline Nokes has asked Home Secretary Priti Patel to ‘step in’ and allow the vigil to go ahead so women can share their sorrow and express their solidarity against male violence in a socially distanced way.
The vigil, due to take place at Clapham Common bandstand in south London, was organised after 33-year-old Sarah Everard’s suspected kidnap and murder sparked anger over the safety of women on the UK’s streets
The group are seeking an order in the High Court today, challenging the force’s interpretations of Covid-19 restrictions
Organisers of a gathering in memory of Sarah Everard have claimed the Metropolitan Police have ‘reversed their position’ on permitting the vigil to take place
There was an increased police presence on Clapham Common this morning
Street lighting was being fixed on Clapham Common in London this morning
Last October, large crowds of anti-lockdown protesters gathered in London, calling for an end to the ‘tyranny’ of pandemic restrictions before many were later charged with flouting coronavirus rules.
Protesters refused to wear masks and wielded signs demanding an end to restrictions on personal freedom imposed as part of efforts to control Covid-19.
And during the lockdown last June, tens of thousands of protesters joined forces and marched through the Capital, amid the Black Lives Matter movement.
The vigil, due to take place at Clapham Common bandstand in south London, was organised after 33-year-old Ms Everard’s suspected kidnap and murder sparked anger over the safety of women on the UK’s streets.
Lawyers for the ‘Reclaim These Streets’ group have today challenged the Met’s interpretation of Covid-19 legislation when read together with the Human Rights Act.
One of the organisers, Anna Birley, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the group had ‘proactively’ contacted Lambeth Council and the Met Police.
Ms Birley organisation for the vigil began on Wednesday evening, adding: ‘Initially, we had feedback that they were looking at ways to navigate this, that they would be looking at how they could proportionately and appropriately provide community policing to the event.
‘And we were in conversation about how we could do that safely so that people could express their anger and their grief without putting themselves or others at risk.
‘We then had an about-face mid-afternoon yesterday. We were being put under increasing pressure that individually, we would be at risk for doing so, but as would everybody who attended and all of the women across the country potentially who have been organising sister vigils in their own areas.’
Ms Birley said that safety of the vigil had been a ‘priority from the get-go’, adding: ‘It would be ironic to organise a vigil to think about women’s safety in public spaces without also thinking about the health and safety aspects.’
‘Ever piece of literature that we’ve put out has emphasised social distancing.’
She said that the location of Clapham Common was chosen because it is a ‘wide open space’, while organisers had emphasised wearing masks.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘He understands the strength of feeling around this case and nobody could fail to be moved by the experiences shared by many women since Sarah’s disappearance.
‘We are still in a pandemic, we would ask people to follow the rules and social distancing rules but we do understand the strength of feeling on this issue.’
Pressed again for his position on the protest, the spokesman said: ‘He does completely understand the strength of feeling on this and we would ask that people continue to follow the rules and social distancing rules.’
The vigil was planned for Saturday in memory of marketing executive Sarah Everard, who disappeared while walking home to Brixton on March 3
During the lockdown last June, tens of thousands of protesters joined forces and marched through the Capital, amid the Black Lives Matter movement
Piers Corbyn took part in an anti-lockdown protest in Richmond Green on March 6
Officers from the Metropolitan Police laid flowers at the gates of the disused golf course and sports centre close to the woodland where remains were found
Ms Birley added: ‘We were trying to be very thoughtful. We had QR codes so that people could do track and trace, and just really trying to work out how we can do this in a really safe way.
‘I think that our right to peacefully assemble is an important one.
‘And that when people do feel strongly and when groups of people’s rights are under threat because they can’t walk on the street safely…or as we saw last summer, they experience racism…
‘I think that our right to protest and our right to assemble in these contexts is a human right.’
She suggested that they may continue to meet if they do not get permission from the court today.
Under current lockdown rules, police in England can hand out fines of up to £10,000 to those found hosting gatherings of more than 30 people.
‘Reclaim These Streets’ last night raised more than £37,000 to pay any potential costs of the High Court appeal
In the statement tweeted on Thursday evening, Reclaim These Streets said the group had ‘initially’ received a positive response when it approached Lambeth Council and Scotland Yard while planning and promoting the event.
‘The Metropolitan Police said that they were ‘trying to navigate a way through’ and that they were ‘currently developing a local policing plan’ to allow the vigil to take place and to enable them to ‘develop an appropriate and proportionate local response’ to the event,’ the statement said.
‘Since this statement, the Metropolitan Police have reversed their position and stated that the vigil would be unlawful and that, as organisers, we could face tens of thousands of pounds in fines and criminal prosecution under the Serious Crimes Act.’
The group said by ‘forcing us to cancel’ the vigil, the police would be ‘silencing thousands of women like us who want to honour Sarah’s memory and stand up for our right to feel safe on our streets’.
A Metropolitan Police statement said: ‘We understand the public’s strength of feeling and are aware of the statement issued by Reclaim These Streets with regard to a planned vigil for Sarah Everard in Clapham Common this weekend.
‘We remain in discussion with the organisers about this event in light of the current Covid regulations.’
A Metropolitan Police van and a private ambulance at the scene of the woods near Ashford in Kent
Police search woodland in Ashford near Kent (pictured) where human remains were found on Wednesday night
Harriet Harman, MP for Camberwell and Peckham, has written to the Metropolitan Police in support of the protest and plans to attend the gathering in Clapham Common on Saturday.
She said: ‘Parliament has not specifically acted to constrain the right to demonstrate, so long as social distancing is observed this vigil will be perfectly lawful.’
Senior Conservative MP Caroline Nokes, the chair of the Commons Women and Equalities Committee, added: ‘I have asked Priti to step in and enable it to happen.
‘The organisers of the vigil appear to have mixed messages from the Met.
‘The Home Secretary can send a very clear message that at this awful time, when women want to express their sorrow at the tragic death of Sarah Everard, want to show their determination not to be intimidated by male violence against women and their solidarity with each other, they should be allowed to do so in a safe and socially distanced way.’
‘Reclaim These Streets’ last night raised more than £37,000 to pay any potential costs of the High Court appeal.
MailOnline has contacted the Metropolitan Police for further comment.