Met Police to appeal High Court ruling that banning Sarah Everard vigil was unlawful

Judges ruled Scotland Yard breached organisers’ freedom of speech by telling them they could not hold the event on Clapham Common, near where the 33-year-old was abducted, due to Covid restrictions.

The Met Police intends to appeal against a High Court ruling that officers illegally breached the rights of organisers over the way the force handled the Sarah Everard vigil.

Today the Met announced it will spend more money defending the judicial review brought by Reclaim These Streets (RTS) by seeking permission to appeal.

The collective said the Met’s decision to tell them their planned memorial to the murdered marketing executive was unlawful went against the Human Rights Act.

Police at the now infamous Sarah Everard vigil. Credit: JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images

RTS proposed a socially distanced vigil for Ms Everard, who was murdered by parliamentary protection officer Wayne Couzens, 49, near where she went missing in Clapham, last March.

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But the four women who founded the group withdrew from organising the event after being threatened with fines of up to £10,000 each for an “illegal gathering” under strict lockdown rules that were in place at the time.

Despite these warnings, a spontaneous vigil still went on Clapham Common, and the Met was accused of being heavy-handed in the way officers broke up and arrested women demonstrating on the bandstand.

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

The High Court found the Met did not act lawfully and that the force’s application of the regulations was not correct.

Reclaim These Streets celebrating at the High Court. Credit: Jamie Klingler

Louisa Rolfe, assistant commissioner at the Met Police, defended the force’s handling of the event after the ruling, saying it could have “wider implications”.

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She said: “The Met unreservedly endorses the principle that fundamental freedoms, such as those exercised by the claimants in this case, may only be restricted where it is necessary and proportionate for a lawful purpose.

“Consideration of an appeal is in no way indicative that the Met do not consider such protections to be of the utmost importance.

“It is, however, 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.”

But today Scotland Yard bosses decided to take the legal challenge further for “absolute clarity” in the law.

A spokesman said: “Following the High Court judgment issued on March 11, the Met has taken time to consider with great care the decision itself and the wider implications for policing.

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“It’s absolutely right that we are held to account for our actions and that there is proper scrutiny of the decisions we make as a police force in upholding legislation and maintaining public order.

“We also respect the strong views held by Reclaim These Streets in defence of human rights and public protest, and their pursuit of justice for these views.

“As an organisation we work with, support and police hundreds of protests and events across London every day, and take our responsibilities under the Human Rights Act in doing so, very seriously.

“It’s important for policing and the public that we have absolute clarity of what’s expected of us in law.

“This is why we feel we must seek permission to appeal the judgment in order to resolve what’s required by law when policing protests and events in the future.”

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Reclaim These Streets activist Jamie Klingler told LondonWorld she was “furious”, adding that other members of the group had “different levels of surprise”.

She said: “I don’t know why I continue to believe that someone will see sense and do the right thing. I just get my trust fractured time and time again.

“This is a huge waste of money and I believe we will be vindicated again.”

Ms Klingler added: “They have to seek permission to appeal and our lawyers will address everything next week. It took us a year to get here.

“Transparency and accountability aren’t high on the list of things the Met is known for.

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“They appealed the Warboys judgement four times. They announced this at 5.45pm on a Friday which is coincidentally the same time that they announced Couzens was removed from the force. They have form.

“And none of that form is about valuing women’s safety. We expect to be vindicated again.”