A British police force that broke up a vigil for a woman kidnapped and allegedly murdered by one of its own officers has been strongly criticised by a parliamentary inquiry for the way it handled the operation.
A group of MPs said that officers broke fundamental rights and were responsible for several failures at the vigil for Sarah Everard and a second protest in the south-west English city of Bristol against plans to give police greater powers to restrict demonstrations.
Everard, 33, was killed in March after she was kidnapped by an off-duty Metropolitan Police officer while she was walking home. The officer, Wayne Couzens, 48, has admitted kidnap and rape in court and accepted responsibility for her death.
The policing of the event in London, attended mainly by women protesting against gender-based violence, was widely criticised after demonstrators were dragged away by officers for breaking Covid-19 rules on public gatherings.
But the MPs said that the actions by the capital’s Metropolitan Police could have increased risks of spreading coronavirus because of the failure to negotiate with the organisers to ensure a safe event.
The head of Britain’s largest force faced calls to resign over the affair. She refused to go and a police watchdog cleared the force of heavy-handed behaviour after its own inquiry.
But MPs criticised the inspectorate’s findings and called for changes in the proposed new law to ensure the right to protest.
Geraint Davies, an MP for the opposition Labour party and chairman of the inquiry, said: “The police must not become the enforcement agency of the state against those who choose to publicly and collectively call for change – political, economic, social or environmental.”
The protest in Bristol – named Kill the Bill in protest at the new law proposals – started peacefully but turned into a riot when hundreds of demonstrators marched on a police station, attacked the building and clashed with officers.
Both police forces wrongly applied lockdown laws and breached “fundamental rights” by failing to explain how they would enforce Covid rules, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Democracy and the Constitution found.
Both police forces rejected the criticisms by the MPs.
Louisa Rolfe, an assistant commissioner from the Metropolitan Police, said: "I stand by the actions of those officers who policed the events on Clapham Common.
“Those officers were met with an extraordinarily challenging circumstance and demonstrated the highest degree of professionalism in their engagement with those gathering.”