Sarah Everard: Reclaim These Streets vigil in south London cancelled, organisers say

Floral tributes for Sarah Everard at Clapham Common in London
Floral tributes for Sarah Everard at Clapham Common in London.

Group appeals to people not to go to event and is instead raising funds for women’s causes

A vigil in south London in response to the disappearance of Sarah Everard has been cancelled, organisers have said.

Organisers of Reclaim These Streets planned to hold a demonstration on Clapham Common in south London on Saturday, near to where the 33-year-old, whose body was formally identified on Friday, went missing. But organisers said despite their attempts to work with police to make sure the vigil could go ahead safely, they now felt it could not.

The group tweeted:

In a statement, the group blamed the decision on a “lack of constructive engagement from the Metropolitan police” and said Scotland Yard “would not engage with our suggestions to help ensure that a legal, Covid-secure vigil could take place”.

“We have made every effort to reach a positive outcome that applies proportionality, so that we could find an appropriate balance between our right as women to freedom of assembly and expression with the regulations set out in Covid regulations,” the group said.

“We have been very disappointed that given the many opportunities to engage with organisers constructively the Met police have been unwilling to commit to anything.”

Instead, the group aims to raise £320,000 for women’s causes, with hopes to raise “£10k for every proposed fine for the 32 vigils originally scheduled”.

A fundraising page set up on Saturday morning had already raised more than £111,000 in just four hours.

A statement on the fundraising page read: “We were told that pressing ahead could risk a £10,000 fine each for each woman organising. Even if we came to this amazing community for help in meeting those costs, we think that this would be a poor use of our and your money.

“We do not want to see hundreds of thousands of pounds contributed to a system that consistently fails to keep women safe – either in public spaces or in the privacy of their homes.”

Anna Birley, one of the organisers, saidthe group did not think the vigil could continue in good faith, “in part because of the massive individual risk that gives us as organisers and that we don’t want to be putting women at risk of fixed-penalty notices”.

“All the women across the country who are seeking to organise their own events too are at risk of criminal prosecutions from the Serious Crime Act, which is what we’ve been threatened with,” she said.

Some MPs condemned the lack of support from police for the vigil. The Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy tweeted:

The Liberal Democrat deputy leader, Daisy Cooper, tweeted that it was the government’s responsibility “to ensure people can protest safely”.

“Women around the UK wanted to stand in silence, 2m apart, w/masks. They’ve been threatened with whopping 10k fines. On Mon, Govt will introduce new laws to curb protests further. Really?”

The chair of the Commons women and equalities committee, Caroline Nokes, who had previously said she had asked the home secretary, Priti Patel, to “step in” to permit the vigil, said she hoped people would now gather virtually instead.

The Conservative MP said: “It is important that women come together. We can do that virtually and recognise the ongoing issue there is with violence against women and girls, perpetrated by men, but do it in a Covid-safe way.”

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Nokes also called for greater action from the government over violence against women and girls.

“The message I am giving back to government is: do something, do something meaningful, or my committee will be holding your feet to the fire over why not,” she said. “I think that’s the crucial thing. I want to see positive, determined action from the government.”

The Labour MP Harriet Harman, chair of the joint committee on human rights, said the dispute between police and organisers showed that the government needed to clarify the regulations on demonstrating during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have said previously that the law on this should be made clearer,” she said. “The relationship between the Human Rights Act and its protection of freedom of association and the new Covid regulations has not been clearly spelt out.

“The police’s response to do a blanket ban, to say we can treat everybody equally by stopping all freedom of associations, is not the right way to go about it.”

Organisers appealed to people not to attend Clapham Common for the previously planned demonstration and said details of a virtual gathering would be announced later on Saturday.

On Friday evening a high court judge refused an application byReclaim These Streets to make “an interim declaration” that any ban on outdoor gatherings under coronavirus regulations was “subject to the right to protest”.

The Met police urged people on Friday to “find a safe alternative way to express their views”.

Some campaigners said on Saturday that they would continue to gather at Clapham Common despite the plea from organisers to stay home. Sisters Uncut, which campaigns to prevent violence against women, tweeted that they “will still be attending tonight’s event in memory of Sarah Everard and all those killed by gendered and state violence”.

In a further post, the group added: “We are angry. We will not be controlled. We will not be silenced.”

As well as the Clapham Common event, vigils were planned in at least two dozen other towns and cities after the alleged murder of Everard.

Organisers of an Edinburgh vigil for Everard, which was due to be held in-person on Saturday, announced on Friday that the event had been moved online.

Organisers in Glasgow are still planning to go ahead with in-person demonstrations.

source: Molly Blackall