Reclaim These Streets Vigil for Sarah Everard in Sheffield in 2021

Met lose High Court challenge by women’s group over Sarah Everard vigil

The High Court has ruled today that the Met Police acted unlawfully in disallowing a Reclaim the Streets (RTS) vigil for Sarah Everard to go ahead last March. 

The Met deemed the vigil for Everard, who was murdered by serving police officer Wayne Couzens, unlawful due to Covid restrictions.

In its place an unofficial vigil attended by hundreds of women took place on 13 March, which ended with many of the women being arrested.

Four women from RTS Jessica Leigh, Anna Birley, Henna Shah and Jamie Klingler took the Met to court arguing that decisions made to cancel the official vigil amounted to a breach of their right to freedom of speech and assembly and this morning, two High Court judges ruled in their favour.

Birley told SWL: “We feel pleased and vindicated. Women’s voices shouldn’t be silenced.

“The right to protest is important and we fought for that right and we were confident in our fight. 

“I hope the Met don’t appeal as it will be a waste of time and money. I’d rather they spent that money on educational programmes.

“I don’t blame Cressida Dick for what happened. I think there’s an institutional problem in the Met, and it can’t sit at the door of one person.”

Dick resigned last month after coming under political pressure from London Mayor Sadiq Khan.

The High Court judgement read: “The court gives judgment on a claim alleging that decisions made by the Metropolitan Police Service (“MPS”) in March 2021 infringed the claimants’ rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly under Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.”

RTS tweeted out a statement including the phrase: “Today’s victory is a victory for women.”

The Met also issued a statement following the ruling.  

Assistant Commissioner Louisa Rolfe said: “We are considering the judgment very carefully before deciding whether to appeal the court’s decision.

“The Met is mindful that this judgment has potential implications in other circumstances for how a proportionality assessment is to be carried out when considering enforcement action.”

Khan welcomed today’s judgement, and claimed that the Met’s actions were unacceptable.

He said: “The murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met officer damaged the confidence of Londoners in the police.

“In the wake of such a horrendous crime, the policing of the vigil in her memory eroded trust in the police further. I was very clear with the Met at the time, that the scenes we saw at the vigil were unacceptable.

“A series of events in the past year have damaged confidence in the police and urgent and wide-reaching action is needed to restore it.

“I remain committed to doing everything in my power to hold the police to account and working with the Met to deliver on the changes needed.

“We know tens of thousands of dedicated Met officers have gone above and beyond throughout this pandemic – but it is clear today that there are still serious lessons to be learned in how their duties are carried out.”

If any woman feels unsafe, they should contact Women’s Aid at: [email protected] or call 999 if immediate help is needed. 

Featured image credit: Tim Dennell via Flickr under CC BY-NC 2.0 license

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