A VIGIL for tragic Sarah Everard has been CANCELLED as organisers reveal they were threatened with a £10,000 fine each.
Crowds had been planning to meet in Clapham common, near where the 33-year-old was last seen, in solidarity with Sarah.
? Follow our live blog for the latest developments on the Sarah Everard case
Sarah disappeared last Wednesday as she walked home
Search crews seen inspecting Clapham Common last weekCredit: PA:Press Association
Campaign group Reclaim These Streets mounted a High Court challenge on Thursday, claiming the Met reversed the decision to permit Saturday’s event in London in an attempt to ban it.
But the High Court upheld the police’s decision to block the event – forcing organisers to cancel.
The group confirmed this morning they would not be pushing ahead with the vigil, which was due to take place at 9.30pm.
They tweeted: “Update: We are sorry to confirm that our Clapham vigil scheduled for tonight is cancelled. Please see the full statement here.
Instead, we are fundraising £320,000 for women’s causes: £10K for every proposed fine for the 32 vigils originally scheduled. https://justgiving.com/crowdfunding/reclaimthesestreets“.
They also revealed they were threatened with a £10,000 fine under Covid laws and slammed cops for being “unwilling to engage”.
Reclaim the Streets statement in full
We have been in discussions with the Metropolitan Police since day one of planning today’s vigil.
Following yesterday’s hearing, we continued those discussions, and repeated tried to find a way forward for the event.
At our meeting yesterday evening we made many suggestions, including staggering start times, splitting the event into time slots and several other ideas to accommodate police concerns – as well as asking the police for their own suggestions. We have made every effort to reach a positive outcome that applies proportionality, so that we could find an appropriate balance between our right as women to freedom of assembly and expression with the regulations set out in Covid regulations.
We have been very disappointed that given the many opportunities to engage with organisers constructively, the Metropolitan Police have been unwilling to commit to anything. While we have had positive discussions with the Lambeth officers present, those from Scotland Yard would not engage with our suggestions to help ensure that a legal, Covid-secure vigil could take place.
It remains our view that with the appropriate mutually agreed measures in place, this evening’s vigil on Clapham Common would have been safe and in life with restrictions and safety regulations.
However, in light of the lack of constructive engagement from the Metropolitan Police, we do not feel that we can in good faith allow tonight’s even to go ahead.
As the event has now been cancelled, we would strongly encourage people not to gather this evening on Clapham Common.
Despite the court judgment, the feedback from police is that doing so may place yourself legally at risk. Furthermore, the Covid-secure event marshalling we would have provided will now not be taking place.
We will be announcing the details of a virtual gathering later today and would encourage all those originally planning to join us on Clapham Common to take part.
We intend to publish open advice later today from our lawyers which may be helpful to others who have organised vigils around the country and been approached with misleading interpretations of the ruling by their local Police force.
We appreciate the outpouring of support over the past 48 hours, and we are clear that women’s voices will not be silenced, now or ever.
We were told that pressing ahead could risk at £10,000 fine each for women organising. Even if we came to this amazing community for help in meeting those costs, we think that this would be a poor use of our and your money.
We do not want to see hundreds of thousands of pounds contributed to a system that consistently fails to keep women safe – either in public spaces or in the privacy or their homes.
Women’s rights are too important. So instead, we are setting up a fundraisers to raise the money we would have been liable for in fines to donate to supporting women’s causes around the country. We will also be donating the remaining funds of our legal costs crowdfunder to this charitable fund.
Our goal is £320,000 which is £10,000 for each location where vigils were expected to go ahead.
And finally but most importantly, we would like to end by expressing our sincerest condolences to the family and friends of Sarah Everard.
Among the to-and-fro with police, the court case and pundits, sometimes the news stops feeling personal.
We want to remember that at the heart of this story is a young woman who isn’t going home tonight, and a family who have lost a daughter and a sister.
Anna Birley, an organiser of the vigil, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that “sadly” the vigil will not go ahead because “we don’t in good faith think that we can”.
She added: “In part because of the massive individual risk that gives us as organisers and that we don’t want to be putting women at risk of fixed-penalty notices.
“All the women across the country who are seeking to organise their own events too are at risk of criminal prosecutions from the Serious Crimes Act, which is what we’ve been threatened with.”
Senior Conservative MP Caroline Nokes, who had previously said she asked Home Secretary Priti Patel to “step in” and allow the vigil to go ahead, said she hoped people would now take the advice of organisers to gather virtually instead.
While Labour’s Harriet Harman, who chairs the Joint Committee on Human Rights, said the law on freedom of association amid the coronavirus pandemic should be clarified.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We have said previously that the law on this should be made clearer.
“The relationship between the Human Rights Act and its protection of freedom of association and the new Covid regulations has not been clearly spelt out.
“The police’s response to do a blanket ban, to say we can treat everybody equally by stopping all freedom of associations, is not the right way to go about it.”
But some people say they are still planning to attend the vigil for tragic Sarah, who vanished last Wednesday as she walked home.
Becki Elson yesterday said she would attend Clapham Common Bandstand at 6pm on Saturday with her 19-year-old daughter Megen.
She said: “Even if no one else shows up, we will take a moment to remember Sarah and leave a candle for her.”
“It’s time for women to fight back, to take control, to lead the way out of this nightmare that has lasted the entire span of human history.”
Another person tweeted: “Sorry, but I myself will attend and urge others to do likewise”.
Others are planning to mark Sarah’s tragic death by lighting a candle instead.
One person saidon social media: “Dear all, a vigil was supposed to happen in Clapham Common tomorrow #reclaimthesestreets at 6pm #vigilforsaraheverard.
“As this is no longer allowed, those who try to attend/gather WILL be arrested &/or fined (as we are still dealing with covid) an alternative is being organised.”
HIGH COURT BLOW
Campaigners for the vigil sought a declaration on the “correct legal position” from the High Court yesterday over the current lockdown laws, which neither ban nor allow protests.
But judge Mr Justice Holgate said it would not be “appropriate for the court” to make the declaration sought.
He ruled that “the requirements of the law have been clearly stated” in previous court rulings, including a challenge to Covid-19 lockdown rules brought by businessman Simon Dolan, which was dismissed by the Court of Appeal in December.
The judge also said: “Given what has happened at the hearing, it may well be that there will be further communication between the claimants and the solicitors they instruct and the police to deal with the application of the regulations and (the rights to freedom of expression and assembly) to this particular event.”
Reclaim These Streets said it had originally received a positive response from the Met Police and Lambeth Council over holding a vigil.
However, police bosses later changed their position saying the event would be unlawful and that the organisers would face a £10,000 fine under new coronavirus laws.
Vigils were also due to take place at 6pm in cities across the UK – including Liverpool, Leeds, Birmingham, Belfast and Cardiff.
The Reclaim These Streets marches were designed to show that women should feel safe no matter the time of day.
Commander Catherine Roper, the Met’s lead for community engagement, said in a statement: “I understand this ruling will be a disappointment to those hoping to express their strength of feeling, but I ask women and allies across London to find a safe alternative way to express their views.
“Throughout the pandemic, we have consistently enforced the Covid regulations and have made difficult decisions during a range of gatherings on issues about which people have felt very strongly.
“Our hope has always been that people stick to the Covid rules, taking enforcement action is always a last resort.
“We continue to speak with the organisers of the vigil in Clapham and other gatherings across London in light of this judgment and will explain the rules and urge people to stay at home.”
It comes as armed cop Wayne Couzens was last night charged with Sarah’s kidnap and murder.
Couzens, 48, will appear in custody at Westminster magistrates’ court this morning.
The police watchdog last night announced they are also investigating the Met Police over an injury sustained by Couzens in custody.
Sarah’s family on Thursday paid tribute to their “bright and beautiful daughter and sister”.
In a statement, Sarah’s family said: “Our beautiful daughter Sarah was taken from us and we are appealing for any information that will help to solve this terrible crime.
“Sarah was bright and beautiful – a wonderful daughter and sister. She was kind and thoughtful, caring and dependable. She always put others first and had the most amazing sense of humour.
“She was strong and principled and a shining example to us all. We are very proud of her and she brought so much joy to our lives.
“We would like to thank our friends and family for all their support during this awful time and we would especially like to thank Sarah’s friends who are working tirelessly to help.”
Sarah Everard went missing a week ago and human remains have now been foundCredit: PA:Press Association
Cop Wayne Couzens, 48, has been charged with murder and kidnapCredit: SWNS:South West News Service
Couzens has been charged by over Sarah’s disappearanceCredit: SWNS:South West News Service
Cops have conducted extensive searches over the past weekCredit: PA:Press Association