I have spent the last 21 years in public office as a member of the London Assembly scrutinising the work of the Metropolitan Police and holding them to account on behalf of my constituents. During that time, I have never hesitated to call out the actions of individual officers or the system of policing itself where failures have occurred. And although many Londoners will not be pleased to read that Met officers have been found to have “acted appropriately” at the vigil for Sarah Everard that took place earlier this month, I think the court of public opinion has been shown to have got it wrong.
Home Secretary Priti Patel asked Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) to conduct its independent investigation of how the Met handled the gathering following an outcry in response to images of women being handcuffed and removed from the crowd that gathered on Clapham Common. On the key issue of whether the police overreacted, the report’s conclusion is that “officers acted in a measured and proportionate way”.
There is also some criticism of the police. The report says they have lessons to learn about improving internal communications at such events: sadly, such failings on the Met’s part have been frequently revealed during my years of scrutiny work. I also agree with the report’s view that the Met “should have adopted a more conciliatory approach in the aftermath of the event”, rather than getting caught up in the social commentary.
Even so, the report provides a valuable perspective on the work of police services in challenging circumstances. It also identifies the responsibility borne by Parliament for creating a context where rules around Covid lockdown were open to misinterpretation and failed to carry a sufficient level of public support.
One final but very important point: in this age of instant comment the HMICFRS report reminds us that before rushing to judgement we must all take a moment to check our facts.
Jennette Arnold is standing down as a London Assembly Member at the forthcoming elections having served on the body since 2000. In that capacity she has been a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority (2000-2012) and the Assembly’s police and crime committee (2012-2021). Follow Jennette on Twitter.
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