'Shame on you': London police, chief draw criticism for aggressive tactics in breaking up vigil for woman killed by officer

John Bacon, USA TODAY
·2 min read

Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said Sunday that she won't resign despite fierce criticism after officers forcibly broke up a vigil honoring murder victim Sarah Everard, whom a police officer is accused of killing.

Dick said the vigil, protesting violence against women, had to be halted because of COVID-19 concerns. Video from the scene shows police taking women away in handcuffs as bystanders called out "shame on you" and "let them go."

London Mayor Sadiq Khan called police behavior "unacceptable" and said he reached out to Dick for an explanation.

"The police have a responsibility to enforce COVID laws," Khan said. "But from images I've seen, it's clear the response was at times neither appropriate nor proportionate."

The advocacy group Reclaim These Streets said its leaders sought a meeting with Dick, who said she was personally appalled by the attack on Everard and more determined than ever to remain police chief.

Officer Wayne Couzens, 48, faces kidnapping and murder charges in the death of Everard, 33, who vanished March 3 while walking home in London. Her body was found a week later in woods 50 miles away.

The case sparked a national outcry and a heated debate on women’s safety. Organizers had planned an official vigil at Clapham Common, near where Everard was last seen alive, but were forced to cancel the event because of COVID-19 restrictions. A huge crowd turned up Saturday anyway.

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Assistant Commissioner Helen Ball issued a statement saying she had joined Dick in a candlelight vigil outside New Scotland Yard, about 4 miles from Clapham Common, and many thousands of people across the nation held similar events.

For six hours, hundreds of people went to Clapham Common to lay flowers and pay their respects to Everard "in a safe and lawful way," Ball said. But the crowd grew bigger, and people began giving speeches.

"At this point, officers on the ground were faced with a very difficult decision," Ball said. "Hundreds of people were packed tightly together, posing a very real risk of easily transmitting COVID-19. Police must act for people's safety; this is the only responsible thing to do.

"The pandemic is not over, and gatherings of people from right across London and beyond are still not safe," she said.

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: London police under fire for breaking up Sarah Everard vigil