WORLD London Police clash with mourners and protesters at Everard vigil

WORLD

London Police clash with mourners and protesters at Everard vigil

CGTN

19:09, March 14, 2021

People gather, at the band stand in Clapham Common, in memory of Sarah Everard in London, UK, March 13, 2021. (Photos: AP)

People gather, at the band stand in Clapham Common, in memory of Sarah Everard in London, UK, March 13, 2021.

People gather, at the band stand in Clapham Common, in memory of Sarah Everard in London, UK, March 13, 2021.

A candle lit by Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his fiancee Carrie Symonds placed on the doorstep of 10 Downing Street, London, UK, March 13, 2021.

Clashes broke out Saturday between police and people who gathered in defiance of coronavirus restrictions at an unofficial vigil for a London woman whose killing has spurred a national conversation in the UK about violence against women.

Sarah Everard's disappearance as she walked home on the evening of March 3 had led to a wave of accounts from women about the dangers of walking streets alone at night, and dismay at the failure of police and wider society to tackle this.

Early on Saturday an impromptu memorial with flowers and candles sprang up around the bandstand on Clapham Common in southwest London, near where Everard was last seen alive.

By late on Saturday around a thousand people – mostly women – gathered at the site to pay their respects and protest at the lack of security they felt when out alone. Some chanted "shame on you" at police who were present.

Campaign groups had wanted to organize a formal vigil, but London's Metropolitan Police said people should not gather due to coronavirus restrictions. The head of the force, Cressida Dick, said any vigil "would be unlawful and would be unsafe."

As tensions mounted, the police was seen dragging several women away from the gathering on Clapham Common.

Police were not immediately able to say how many people they had arrested.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who is responsible for policing in the city, said officers' response "was at times neither appropriate or proportionate" and added that he was seeking an urgent explanation from Dick.

Labour Party leader Keir Starmer called the scenes "deeply disturbing" and Conservative interior minister Priti Patel said she too wanted answers from police about "upsetting" images.

Appearing at London's Westminster Magistrates' Court on Saturday morning, 48-year-old police officer Wayne Couzens, wearing a grey tracksuit, spoke only to confirm his identity.

Couzens's lawyer did not enter a plea to the charges of kidnap and murder ahead of a fuller court hearing scheduled for Tuesday. Couzens remains in custody.

Police discovered Everard's body on Wednesday in woodland about 80 kilometer southeast of London. The court heard that her body was found in a builder's refuse bag, and was identified using dental records.

The Metropolitan Police has expressed shock and horror that one of its own was a suspect in the case. The London police force said Couzens joined its ranks in 2018 and most recently served in the parliamentary and diplomatic protection command, an armed unit responsible for guarding embassies in the capital and Parliament.

England's police watchdog has launched an investigation into the Metropolitan Police's handling of the case.

Earlier on Saturday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he and his partner Carrie Symonds would light a candle in memory of Everard.

"I will do everything I can to make sure the streets are safe and ensure women and girls do not face harassment or abuse," he said.

Many participants laid flowers at a bandstand in the park. Among them was Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, who was seen pausing for a moment in front of the sea of flowers. Other people held signs reading "We will not be silenced" and "She was just walking home," and the crowd chanted, "Sisters united will never be defeated."

Watch the full coverage: 'Reclaim the Night': Women campaign for safer streets after the death of Sarah Everard in London

(With input from agencies)

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