City Hall is to challenge the Metropolitan Police Service over its controversial decision to appeal against this month’s High Court ruling that it breached the human rights of the organisers of the Clapham Common Sarah Everard vigil, London Assembly members heard today.
“We are disappointed that the Met got it wrong and concerned that they are appealing, and we will be discussing that with the commissioner,” Sadiq Khan’s deputy for policing Sophie Linden (pictured) told the Assembly’s police and crime committee.
“We are concerned not just in relation to what that means for trust and confidence of women in the police, but also about the spending of taxpayers’ money on that,” she added.
The Met had already faced severe criticism over its policing of the gathering, described by Khan as “completely unacceptable”. An estimated 1,500 people attended the vigil on 13 March last year. Nine arrests were made amid what was widely seen as a heavy-handed response by officers on the scene.
The Reclaim These Streets grouping which organised the vigil, held close to the spot where Sarah Everard was last been seen before her abduction and murder by serving police officer Wayne Couzens, had officially cancelled the event after negotiations with the Met because of the risk of enforcement and prosecution.
And a High Court judgment earlier this month backed their claim that the Met had breached their human rights of freedom of assembly and freedom of expression in their approach ahead of the event and their interpretation of the Covid regulations then in force.
“None of the MPS decisions was in accordance with the law; the evidence showed that the MPS failed to perform its legal duty to consider whether the claimants might have a reasonable excuse for holding the gathering, or to conduct the fact-specific proportionality assessment required in order to perform that duty,” said Lord Justice Warby.
Police decisions and their statements at meetings leading up to the vigil, to the effect that the Covid regulations meant that the vigil would be “unlawful”, had had a “chilling effect” on the organisers’ exercise of their rights, he added.
The Met confirmed last week its intention to appeal the judgment “in order to resolve what’s required by law when policing protests and events in the future” following an earlier statement that it was “incumbent on the Met to ensure that this judgment does not unduly inhibit its ability, and that of police forces across the country, to effectively balance competing rights in a way that is operationally deliverable.”
Assistant Met commissioner Louisa Rolfe told the Assembly committee that the Met “entirely respected” the judgment, adding that it was “absolutely right that police powers, particularly when people are seeking to exercise their human rights, face rigorous scrutiny”. But there were concerns about the “long-term implications of the finding”, she said.
Responding to questions from committee chair, Tory assembly member Susan Hall, she agreed that the atmosphere at the vigil had changed after 6pm, and highlighted the findings of the Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMI), which said that “on balance the Metropolitan Police acted appropriately”.
Rolfe nevertheless conceded that “whatever the HMI findings, we recognise the impact of the narrative that is now locked in in terms of people’s sense of what happened there.”
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