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11th Mar 2022

Sarah Everard: Met Police breached the rights of vigil organisers, court rules

April Curtin


The Met told vigil organisers they could face £10,000 fines if the event went ahead

The Metropolitan Police breached the rights of a group that planned to hold a vigil for Sarah Everard last year, a court has ruled.

Reclaim These Streets (RTS) on Friday tweeted that it felt “vindicated” by the High Court’s decision against the Met who it claimed showed “total disregard for women’s human rights to assembly and expression”.

RTS took the Met to court after it warned the group not to hold a memorial event for Everard who was kidnapped, raped, and murdered by serving Met Police officer Wayne Couzens in March 2021.

In a statement on Friday morning, RTS described the judgement as “a victory for women”.

“Last March, women’s voices were silenced. Today’s judgment conclusively shows that the police were wrong to silence us,” it said.

The group explained how, following Everard’s death, women needed a space to come together, grieve and protest against the violence that women face every day.

“We couldn’t have imagined the far-reaching implications of our decision to organise,” they said.

The Met threatened RTS organisers with £10,000 fines, claiming a vigil would breach the lockdown rules that were in place at the time. RTS withdrew the event, which was also intended to be a protest against violence against women, however, a spontaneous vigil went ahead anyway.

Lord Justice Warby and Mr Justice Holgate on Friday ruled in favour of RTS, finding that the Met’s decisions in the run-up to the event were “not in accordance with the law”.

RTS said the judgment sets “a powerful precedent for protest rights.”

Protestors demonstrate outside Scotland Yard over the treatment of people by police at the Sarah Everard vigil the day before on March 14, 2021 (Getty)

The group had proposed a socially distanced vigil for the 33-year-old near to where she went missing in Clapham, south London, on 3 March while walking home.

After withdrawing their plans, the four women who founded RTS, launched a legal challenge against the Met.

Lawyers for RTS organisers Jessica Leigh, Anna Birley, Henna Shah, and Jamie Klingler, argued the Met’s handling of the cancelled event breached their human rights to freedom of speech and assembly, the BBC earlier reported.

Their lawyers told the High Court that notes of a Met gold command meeting the day before the proposed event included a statement that “we are seen as the bad guys at the moment and we don’t want to aggravate this”, the broadcaster reported in January.

The verdict comes as the government looks set to give police greater powers to curb protests, as part of the Police, Courts, Sentencing and Crime Bill.

Groups such as Reclaim These Streets and Sisters Uncut continue to protest against this.

RTS said they hope the ruling “reminds everyone the importance of upholding our human rights”.

“We believe it sets an important precedent for future protests and the way they are policed,” they added.

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Sarah Everard