MPS commissioner stands firm against growing criticism
The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), Dame Cressida Dick, is set to attend a meeting of the Government’s Crime and Justice Taskforce later today (March 15) after the Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “deeply concerned” about the way the force dealt with a vigil held in memory of Sarah Everard on Saturday night.
Dame Cressida said what happened to Ms Everard made her “more determined, not less” to lead the organisation, and welcomed the Home Secretary’s request for an independent investigation into the events over the weekend, but said she had no intention of resigning over the clashes between officers and crowds that to remember the 33-year-old marketing executive who went missing while walking home from a friend’s flat on March 3.
Priti Patel, who will be at the meeting on Monday with Justice Secretary Robert Buckland and Director of Public Prosecutions Max Hill, has asked the chief inspector of constabulary to conduct a “lessons learned” review into the police’s actions at the vigil.
He added: “I have spoken with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner who has committed to reviewing how this was handled, and the Home Secretary has also commissioned HM Inspectorate of Constabulary to conduct a lessons learned review into the policing of the event.
“(On Monday) I will chair a meeting of the Government’s Crime and Justice Taskforce to look at what further action we need to take to protect women and ensure our streets are safe.
“The death of Sarah Everard must unite us in determination to drive out violence against women and girls and make every part of the criminal justice system work to protect and defend them.”
Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds criticised the Government for responding with “yet more meetings and another consultation” at a moment when the country is “demanding action to tackle violence against women and girls”.
London mayor Sadiq Khan said he would be asking the Inspectorate of Constabulary and the Independent Office for Police Conduct to look into the events.
And Martin Hewitt, chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said he would bring together police chiefs on Monday to discuss “what more we can do to better protect women”.
It comes as landmark legislation comes before the Commons that will give police greater powers to crack down on disruptive protests.
Labour has said it will vote against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill because it contains “poorly thought-out measures to impose disproportionate controls on free expression”.
In a video obtained by the PA news agency of Saturday’s vigil, a woman could be seen being shoved forcefully in the back by two officers after being lifted from her knees.
The woman, who has not yet been identified, then tries to bend down near the officers and is shoved back again. She can be heard shouting that she is trying to retrieve her glasses.
Reclaim These Streets had organised the vigil before being forced to cancel following consultation with the MPS, which said it would be in breach of coronavirus rules.
Nimco Ali, who is advising the Government on tackling violence against women and girls, compared the force’s behaviour with an abuser.
She told Times Radio: “It does come from a handbook of abusive men, where the fact that you’re constantly blaming the victim for your act of violence.
“So rather than actually taking accountability, it was more like ‘women shouldn’t have turned up’.”
The MPS said four people were arrested for public order and coronavirus regulation breaches.
Three of them, a man and two women, were arrested on suspicion of breaching the Health Protection Regulation and have been reported for consideration of a fixed-penalty notice.
A fourth person, a woman in her teens, was arrested on suspicion of a public order offence and has been released under police investigation.
There were fresh protests on Sunday outside Scotland Yard and at Parliament Square, with demonstrators chanting “shame on you” at police.
Officers erected barriers around the MPS’s headquarters and the group of protesters, many holding placards aloft, spilled over onto the road next to the River Thames.
Calls for Dame Cressida to resign were led by Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey, while Women’s Equality Party co-founder Catherine Mayer said her position was “untenable”.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the Commissioner should not quit, but condemned the policing on Saturday as “wrong”. Mr Johnson is understood to have confidence in her.
Dame Cressida said on Sunday: “What happened to Sarah appals me. As you know, I’m the first woman commissioner of the Met, perhaps it appals me, in a way, even more because of that.
“What has happened makes me more determined, not less, to lead my organisation.
“I’ve listened to what people have been saying in the last week, I know that in the streets all across the UK women don’t feel as safe as we would all like women to feel. I am utterly determined.”
She said that “all the women and men of the Met are outraged at what has happened and they’re working as hard as they can to get justice for Sarah”.
“In that context, none of us would have wanted to see the scenes we saw at the end of yesterday’s events.”
Anna Birley from Reclaim These Streets said she did not want Dame Cressida to resign, but asked for the MPS chief to meet with the group.
She told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “We are a movement of women seeking to support and empower other women, and as one of the most senior women in British policing history, we do not want to add to the pile-on.
“We do want her to meet with us.
“We were hugely disappointed that she put out a statement yesterday without talking to any of the people who were organising the vigil and had such a difficult experience with the Metropolitan Police force.”