Sarah Everard vigil: ‘Mark Rowley doesn’t get it - people don’t and can’t trust the Met Police’
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We did nothing wrong and we only apologised to get them off our back.
That’s the gist of the Met Police’s response to the news that payouts and apologies were part of agreed settlements with two women arrested during a vigil in March 2021, following the rape and murder by police officer Wayne Couzens of Sarah Everard.
This was at a time when gatherings were banned for very good reason - to limit the spread of Covid-19, which was killing millions of people around the world.
The problem is that these were “extraordinary circumstances”, in the words of a Met spokesperson today - notably not attributed to Met commissioner Sir Mark Rowley. They were extraordinary not only in terms of the pandemic, but because a Met Officer had just been charged with raping and murdering a woman.
One of the women awarded damages, Patsy Stevenson, told the Today programme this morning that transcripts showed officers at the vigil referencing “spouting stuff about the Met Police” and “lefty-something”. It’s impossible to believe that while wrestling women to the ground to uphold Covid regulations, some officers were not also carrying out retribution on critics.
In fact, Baroness Casey in her subsequent review of Met Police culture found institutional racism, misogyny and homophobia.
Rowley accepted the report, just not the words. His claim that ‘institutional’ had become “politicised” was in itself a political statement - a defence mechanism of the Met protecting itself. He could have just accepted the report’s conclusions.
Those findings, revelations about Couzens’ previous behaviour and the actions of the force at the vigil on March 13 2021 all demonstrate that the Met Police couldn’t be trusted.
Rowley has heralded moves he has made since becoming commissioner to prosecute and discipline officers for wrongdoing. The scale of what has since come out - including the crimes of serial rapist police office David Carrick - shows that critics of the force including the people at Clapham Common protesting (some were just there to mourn) were right. Sex offenders within the force acted with impunity in a culture of misogyny.
That Rowley still can’t see the problem with the response by the force to the vigil - led by then-commissioner Cressida Dick - beggars belief.
What I have written above does not even touch on the additional failures of the force with respect to people of colour.
Next week, five officers face misconduct hearing relating to the stop and search of Bianca Williams. The case has received attention due to the athlete’s Team GB status, but it reflects a reality for millions of Londoners.
Even as I write, it has been announced that two female officers who in December 2020 carried out a strip search at a school of a 15-year-old Black girl, Child Q - who was wrongly accused of possessing cannabis - face misconduct proceedings, along with another officer.
Sir Mark Rowley has pledged to clean up the Met, but deserving public trust will require a change of attitude far beyond that demonstrated so far.
Met Police statement after Sarah Everard vigil payouts in full
A spokesperson for the Met said: “The Clapham Common vigil took place in extraordinary circumstances, in the midst of a pandemic where restrictions on gatherings were in force for very valid public health reasons and in the days immediately following the most appalling murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met officer.
“We tried to achieve a balance that recognised the rights of the public to protest and to express their grief and sadness, while also continuing to enforce the relevant Covid legislation.
“The actions of individual officers were found by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabularies to have been appropriate. They acted in good faith, interpreting complex and changing legislation in very challenging circumstances in a way that was entirely consistent with their colleagues working across London at the time.
“A protracted legal dispute is not in the interests of any party, least of all the complainants who we recognise have already experienced significant distress as a result of this incident. The most appropriate decision, to minimise the ongoing impact on all involved, was to reach an agreed settlement.
“We are working every day to make London a city where women and girls can feel and be safe and where communities can have trust and confidence in their police service.”