'Scotland Yard tried to silence us': Camden organiser of Sarah Everard vigil

Reclaim These Streets founders Henna Shah, Jamie Klingler, Anna Birley and Jessica Leigh

Solicitor Theodora Middleton (centre) with Reclaim These Streets founders (l-r) Henna Shah, Jamie Klingler, Anna Birley and Jessica Leigh outside the Royal Courts of Justice - Credit: PA

The Camden co-organiser of a vigil for Sarah Everard has spoken out after the High Court ruled the Metropolitan Police breached her human rights. 

Reclaim These Streets (RTS) proposed a socially-distanced vigil for the 33-year-old, who was murdered by serving Met officer Wayne Couzens in Clapham last March.

The organisation's four founders brought a legal challenge against the force over its handling of the vigil and demonstration about violence against women.

They withdrew as organisers after being told by the Met they would face fines of £10,000 each and possible prosecution if it went ahead. A spontaneous vigil and protest took place instead.

Jamie Klingler, from Camden, along with Jessica Leigh, Anna Birley and Henna Shah said decisions made by the force amounted to a breach of their human rights to freedom of speech and assembly, and said the force did not assess the potential risk to public health.

In a ruling on Friday (March 11), two senior judges upheld their claim, finding that the Met’s decisions were “not in accordance with the law”.

In a summary of the ruling, Lord Justice Warby said: “The relevant decisions of the [Met] were to make statements at meetings, in letters, and in a press statement, to the effect that the Covid-19 regulations in force at the time meant that holding the vigil would be unlawful.

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“Those statements interfered with the claimants’ rights because each had a ‘chilling effect’ and made at least some causal contribution to the decision to cancel the vigil.

He said “none" of the force's decisions was in accordance with the law, and that it failed to consider whether the claimants had a reasonable excuse for the gathering.

Sarah Everard

Sarah Everard - Credit: MPS

Ms Klingler said the ruling represented “absolute vindication”, telling the PA news agency: “We’ve had the same story from the Thursday that Scotland Yard tried to silence us and silencing women is never a good idea.”

She added: “The police should have facilitated our reasonable excuse to protest and that’s exactly what we’ve been saying since the Thursday that we tried.

“The whole way, they’ve been making up different things and saying we can’t do it. It was a blanket ban on protest that they weren’t allowed to do.

“Every step of the way there was just condescension and disrespect and they were telling us their hands were tied.”

She said an organised vigil would have had 50 stewards and communication with the police. She said it "would have been a quiet moment of silence and then we would have gone home".

“By doing what they did and by trying to silence us and by forcing us into court, forcing us to raise money and giving it so much more publicity, they got it bigger and bigger and bigger, and then they lit a match," she said.

“This is all down to the police, they should not have wasted the money in court with us and they should have spent that money on violence against women and girls.”

She added: “We hope that the new commissioner is a visionary who really prioritises getting rid of the systemic racism, sexism and homophobia in the force.”

Reclaim These Streets founders (l-r) Henna Shah, Jamie Klingler, Anna Birley and Jessica Leigh

Reclaim These Streets founders (l-r) Henna Shah, Jamie Klingler, Anna Birley and Jessica Leigh - Credit: PA

The Met defended the claim in court, saying there was no exception for protest in the coronavirus rules, and that it had “no obligation” to assess the public health risk.

A request for the High Court to assert the right to protest ahead of the vigil was rejected.

The policing of the spontaneous vigil that took place drew criticism from across the political spectrum after women were handcuffed on the ground.

But a report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services concluded the police “acted appropriately”.

Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Louisa Rolfe said on Friday that she and Met officers "remain deeply saddened by the murder of Sarah Everard and utterly disgusted that it was a serving Met officer who took her life".

She said: “We know the impact this terrible crime has had on our communities and recognise that the vigil on Clapham Common on March 13 2021, organised to remember Sarah, was intended to give people the opportunity to express themselves."

The force "worked very hard in challenging circumstances" to apply the regulations at the time, she  said.

She said the Met will consider whether to appeal against the decision, saying it could have wider implications for other protests.