Public say police were right to break up Clapham Common vigil, poll finds

More than half of the public have backed the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) over its decision to break up crowds that had gathered at a memorial event for Sarah Everard, according to new poll commissioned by the crime and justice consultancy Crest Advisory.

Mar 17, 2021
By Tony Thompson

The online survey, conducted by YouGov, showed there was support for the MPS’s tactics among men (56 per cent) and women (50 per cent). Slightly more Londoners backed the police’s handling of the event (44 per cent) than disagreed with it (38 per cent) – but nearly half of young adults aged 18 to 24 (46 per cent) thought officers should not have intervened in the way they did.

Asked who was viewed as being most responsible for the scuffles that took place between officers and people attending the event, 43 per cent of respondents said “members of the public”, with 29 per cent blaming the police. Just nine per cent said the Government, which had introduced the coronavirus laws restricting gatherings, were principally to blame.

Women and Londoners were more evenly split on who was to blame, while young people aged 18 to 24 (39 per cent) and Labour voters (42 per cent) were more likely to say the police were mainly responsible.

The survey, of 1,672 adults, also questioned people about new government proposals that would allow the police to impose stricter conditions on protests after the pandemic, in order to prevent noise and serious disruption.

Opinion about the plans, which are contained in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, was sharply divided, with 38 per cent saying they “strongly” or “slightly” supported them, and 36 per cent saying they were opposed.

Crest Advisory has been tracking public opinion about the police’s overall approach to the pandemic since the first lockdown, last year.

There is evidence that support is slipping, with 21 per cent of people in this poll saying they “fully support” their approach, compared with 27 per cent in January 2021 and 42 per cent in April 2020.

The proportion of those who believe the police are “too heavy-handed” has risen in the past two months from seven per cent to 12 per cent, while the number who would like to see “tougher action” has dropped to 18 per cent from 22 per cent.

Overall, however, 57 per cent of the public fully or partially supported the police approach to the pandemic.

Harvey Redgrave, chief executive of Crest Advisory, said: “Today’s poll shows the police retain widespread public consent for their approach to the pandemic, despite the negative headlines of the last few days. A majority of men and women thought the police were right to break up the vigil on Clapham Common.

“However, there are also warning signs for police leaders: support for their approach is more qualified than it was a year ago, with evidence of rising concern about heavy-handedness. Younger people are far less supportive of police methods.”

Addressing the poll findings about the new Bill, Mr Redgrave added: “The Government’s new proposals on the policing of protest do not appear to have clear majority consent, which will fuel fears that the legislation is likely to put the police in an increasingly awkward position.”

The poll results in detail

The survey asked if police were right to break up the gathering at Clapham Common and arrest people who refused to leave the event:

  • 53 per cent said police were right;
  • 32 per cent said they were wrong;
  • 56 per cent of men and and 50 per cent of women said police were right;
  • 44 per cent of Londoners said police were right, 38 per cent wrong; and
  • 46 per cent of 18-24-year-olds said police were wrong, 30 per cent said right.

The survey also asked “who bears the greatest responsibility for the scuffles” at the event?

  •  43 per cent said they blamed members of the public;
  • 29 per cent blamed the police;
  • Nine per cent blamed the Government;
  • Among women, 38 per cent blamed the public, 34 per cent blamed police;
  • Of Londoners, 33 per cent blamed the public, 33 per cent blamed police;
  • 13 per cent of Londoners blamed the Government, higher than anywhere else;
  • 39 per cent of 18-24-year-olds and 42 per cent of Labour voters blamed the police; and
  • 64 per cent of Conservative voters blamed members of the public.

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