Met Police makes apology and pays damages to women arrested at Sarah Everard vigil

Patsy Stevenson’s arrest  (Reuters)
Patsy Stevenson’s arrest (Reuters)

Two women arrested at the vigil for murdered south Londoner Sarah Everard have won an apology and substantial damages from the Metropolitan Police.

Dania Al-Obeid and Patsy Stevenson were both detained by police officers at the event on Clapham Common in March 2021, ten days after Ms Everard had been kidnapped, raped, and murdered by serving PC Wayne Couzens.

Scotland Yard faced nationwide anger at its handling of the vigil as women including Ms Stevenson were pictured being manhandled and pinned to the ground by police, just as the force was faced fierce criticism over female safety on the streets of London.

A vigil planned for that day by the Reclaims These Streets group had been effectively blocked by the Met after the force threatened organisers with £10,000 Covid fines.

In the void, a spontaneous gathering happened anyway – with the Princess of Wales in attendance – and the Met was then accused being heavy handed and “tone deaf” to public anger over the Couzens case and wider misogyny in police ranks.

The two women sued the Met over the incident, in a legal case that is brought to an end by the apology and agreement to pay damages.

Dania Al-Obeida  attending the vigil Sarah Everard vigil (Reuters)
Dania Al-Obeida attending the vigil Sarah Everard vigil (Reuters)

“I wish to emphasise that I fully acknowledge that your motivations in attending the vigil were to express your grief and anger regarding the circumstances of the tragic murder of Sarah Everard, and to express the level of concern and dissatisfaction felt by you and many other women who were understandably feeling badly let down by the Met”, said Commander Karen Findlay.

“The policing plan for the vigil was devised to provide an opportunity for members of the public to attend in order to express their grief and anger.

“Acknowledging that the fundamental right to protest remained, the circumstances at the time of the vigil – namely that we were in the midst of the Covid‐19 pandemic ‐ presented an extremely difficult challenge for policing and the officers present due to the need to balance the potential risk such a gathering could pose to public health.

“That aside, I appreciate the anger, frustration and alarm your arrest undoubtedly caused you, exacerbated by the subsequent proceedings, and I regret that your opportunity to express your grief and anger was curtailed by your arrest and removal.”

In the months after the vigil, Couzens was jailed for the rest of his life for Ms Everard’s murder, and legal cases rumbled on around the handling of the event.

A High Court case concluded the Reclaim These Streets vigil had been unlawfully blocked by the Met.

And Ms Al-Obeid was prosecuted over her attendance at the vigil, where she was accused of breaking Covid lockdown rules. The criminal case was dealt with in a behind-closed-doors court, without her knowledge, and her conviction and fine was ultimately overturned.

The co-founder of social justice organisation Reclaim These Streets has said ‘there is no question there are more men’ in the Metropolitan Police ‘capable of the violence’ carried out by killer Wayne Couzens and serial rapist David Carrick (Victoria Jones/PA) (PA Archive)
The co-founder of social justice organisation Reclaim These Streets has said ‘there is no question there are more men’ in the Metropolitan Police ‘capable of the violence’ carried out by killer Wayne Couzens and serial rapist David Carrick (Victoria Jones/PA) (PA Archive)

“I have found this journey incredibly difficult but very important as a survivor of domestic violence and someone who has been failed by the police in that context”, said Ms Al-Obeid.

“I have felt empowered holding the police to account for how they have treated me and other women who attended the vigil, I really feel I have found my voice through this process and I finally feel heard.

“I appreciate that the Met Police have acknowledged our motivations for attending it but ‘badly let down’ is an understatement.

“I have felt abused, abandoned by the police prior to, during and post the vigil – I do not feel protected or safe with any police force.”

Ms Al-Obeid said she believes the Met should no longer be on the frontline for dealing with domestic or sexual violence, and called on the force to open up to scrutiny of its inner workings.

The recent review of the Met by Baroness Casey ended with a scathing assessment of racist, misogyny and homophobia within the ranks.

The review also found that the force had “failed to recognise the significance of the murder of Sarah Everard, why there was such anger and grief and their own role within that.

“Their own abhorrence of Sarah Everard’s murder did not extend to a recognition of how badly let down women in London felt by the Met itself, nor the importance of allowing people to express their grief and anger about this. This tendency to focus inwards, on their own feelings and their own officers and not see or accept things from other perspectives is a recurring feature of Met culture.”

Ms Stevenson said today: “I’m glad that the police have recognised that we had a fundamental right to protest but since then this right has been further eroded and undermined by the Public Order Act.

“It is our politicians who have rewarded the Met with greater police powers despite the murder of Sarah Everard and the policing of the vigil, which has exposed deeply embedded misogyny within the Met Police internationally.”

Sarah Everard was raped and killed as she walked home in south London (PA Media)
Sarah Everard was raped and killed as she walked home in south London (PA Media)

The two women brought their legal claim with the help of Bindmans solicitors, and barristers Jude Bunting KC and Pippa Woodrow.

In a statement, a Met Police spokesperson said: The Clapham Common vigil took place in extraordinary circumstances, in the midst of a pandemic where restrictions on gatherings were in force for very valid public health reasons and in the days immediately following the most appalling murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met officer.

“We tried to achieve a balance that recognised the rights of the public to protest and to express their grief and sadness, while also continuing to enforce the relevant Covid legislation.

“The actions of individual officers were found by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabularies to have been appropriate. They acted in good faith, interpreting complex and changing legislation in very challenging circumstances in a way that was entirely consistent with their colleagues working across London at the time.

“A protracted legal dispute is not in the interests of any party, least of all the complainants who we recognise have already experienced significant distress as a result of this incident.

“The most appropriate decision, to minimise the ongoing impact on all involved, was to reach an agreed settlement.”