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Patsy Stevenson: Woman held at Sarah Everard vigil says case has scarred her for life

 (Reuters)
(Reuters)

A woman who was paid substantial damages after being arrested at a vigil for Sarah Everard has vowed to continue to “speak up about police abuse” despite receiving death threats.

Patsy Stevenson and Dania Al-Obeid were among the protesters held at the Clapham Common vigil for Ms Everard, who was raped and murdered by a serving Metropolitan Police officer in March 2021, when Covid restrictions on large gatherings were in place.

An image of Ms Stevenson being pinned down by officers and dragged away was seen around the world.

The women have now been paid compensation by the Met after it acknowledged that even during Covid their “fundamental right to protest remained”. But Ms Stevenson, from Egham, Surrey, said the experience had scarred her for life.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I don’t think people realise how tough legal battles are. There are hurdles every step of the way, there’s hate, I’ve had death threats.”

Ms Stevenson said she only went to “mourn for a woman who was murdered by a police officer”, adding: “I still have nightmares of it. I know other people have faced worse police brutality but for me that was my experience.”

She said the Met’s apology was welcome but vowed to continue to “speak up about police abuse” and fight for better policing of violence against women and girls. The Met was criticised for its heavy handling of the later stages of the gathering, with outrage that some women were bundled to the ground, and its “tone-deaf” reaction to the negative reaction in the aftermath.

Ms Stevenson said she felt that Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley was only “paying lip service” to those calling for reform following a series of scandals and allegations of institutional sexism, racism and homophobia.

The Clapham event was originally planned by campaign group Reclaim These Streets (RTS), which cancelled after Met officers threatened organisers with £10,000 fines under the lockdown rules in place at the time. But members of the public attended anyway, with no police intervention for around six hours before clashes occurred.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said: “In the wake of such a horrendous crime, the policing of the vigil — held in her memory — further eroded trust. I was very clear with the Met at the time, that the scenes we saw were completely unacceptable. They were one of the reasons I lost confidence in the former Commissioner [Dame Cressida Dick].”

Commander Karen Findlay wrote in letters to both women: “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 [over the death of Ms Everard] was curtailed by your arrest and removal.”

A legal battle rumbled on long after the vigil with the RTS organisers successfully arguing that their right to protest had been breached by the Met.

Ms Al-Obeid said: “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.

“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.”

A Scotland Yard spokesman said: “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.”