Sarah Everard death summed up in five words: 'She was just walking home'

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel orders review of police tactics in wake of vigil arrests

People attend a protest at the Parliament Square, following the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard, in London, Britain March 14, 2021. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
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The death of Sarah Everard hit a nerve among so many women because she was just walking home, UK Home Secretary Priti Patel said on Monday.

Ms Patel was addressing criticism of London's police force after four people were arrested at a vigil for the murdered 33-year-old marketing executive.

Thousands of people gathered in Clapham Common in south London on Saturday, near to where Everard was last seen before disappearing while walking home from a friend's house on March 3.

The vigil turned ugly after it was deemed unlawful by police, who then moved to break it up to enforce Covid regulations. Some women were pinned to the ground as they were handcuffed by officers.

Ms Patel announced a review of the tactics used by officers at the vigil to be carried out by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, acknowledging that  online footage of the arrests in Clapham was "upsetting".

"I would like to take a moment to acknowledge why Sarah's death has upset so many. My heartache and that of others can be summed up in just five words - she was just walking home," she told the House of Commons.

"And while the specific circumstances of Sarah's disappearance are thankfully uncommon, what has happened has reminded women everywhere of the steps that we take each day without a second thought to keep ourselves safe.

"It has rightly ignited anger at the danger posed to women by predatory men."

She said all women could relate to issues brought up in the wake of Everard's death.

"Too many of us have walked home from school or work alone only to hear footsteps uncomfortably close of us," she said.

"Too many of us have pretended to be on our phone. Too many of us have clutched our keys in our fist to protect ourselves, and that is not OK."

Ms Patel said an "unprecedented" 78,000 people had responded to a survey on violence against women and girls in the UK, which reopened after the death of Everard.

Almost 20,000 responses were received by the Home Office within the first 24 hours.

Earlier, the UK's top police officer hit out at "armchair critics" while defending her force's handling of the vigil as thousands protested for a second night decrying violence against women.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick said officers had to enforce Covid regulations while acknowledging the sensitive nature of the protest.

Patsy Stevenson, a 28-year-old student who was one of those arrested, said she was still unsure why she had been detained when she was "just standing there".

"A police officer was pulling my arm, trying to get my name and then I was tackled to the ground,” she told Sky News on Monday.

“As I was being taken away, behind me one of the officers that was holding on to me was saying ‘I’ve got my hand on my baton, I’ve got my hand on my baton’ to one of the other officers.

“I thought this was terrifying because we’re about to walk into a crowd of people and I don’t know whether that crowd are going to go against what’s going on.”

Dame Cressida said that concerns about the spread of coronavirus led officers to intervene on Saturday.

“I wouldn’t have wanted to see a vigil in memory of Sarah end with those scenes,” she said.

“From what I can tell ... my officers [were] in a very difficult position, as they have been again and again in the last year policing within coronavirus restrictions, having to uphold the law, having to be impartial, having to be fair.”

She said officers had "really difficult calls" to make and further defended their actions.

“I don’t think anybody should be sitting back in an armchair and saying ‘Well that was done badly’ or ‘I would have done it differently’ without actually understanding what was going through their minds,” she said.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson defended Dame Cressida amid calls for her to resign in the wake of the protests.

"The police do have a very, very difficult job. But there's no question that the scenes that we saw were very distressing," Mr Johnson said.

"The reality is that the country is united still in shock and grief about what happened to Sarah Everard and we must do everything we can to find the answers."

There was a markedly different police response on Sunday as thousands gathered again in central London to highlight violence against women.

Campaign group Sisters Uncut held an event outside the Metropolitan Police’s headquarters at New Scotland Yard, which it said was to remember Everard and demonstrate against police brutality.

Demonstrators chanted “shame on you” at police and officers erected barriers around the building near the Houses of Parliament.

Policing Minister Kit Malthouse said the reviews into the handling of the vigil would “make sure everything was done in accordance with the rules”.

“Saturday saw an unleashing of a huge amount of emotion and anger,” he told Sky News on Monday.

“I do recognise the police are in an incredibly difficult position. We’ve asked them to stand between the public and this terrible virus ... that difficult position they are in needs to be reflected in our contemplation of this.”

The capital’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, said the police response was “at times neither appropriate nor proportionate”.

Both Mr Khan and Ms Patel said they were not satisfied with the force’s report of the event before the police watchdog was ordered to conduct an investigation.

Police were seen scuffling with some women at the event, and one woman was seen pinned to the ground by two officers.

A video widely shared on social media showed a woman being pulled up from the ground by officers who then shoved her from the back.

Several women were led away in handcuffs as others at the vigil chanted “shame on you” at police.

On Saturday, an impromptu memorial with flowers and candles sprang up around the bandstand on Clapham Common.

Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, was briefly among those paying tribute.

The Everard case has sparked heated debate about women’s safety in the public space.

Police officer appears in court

Police officer Wayne Couzens, 48, earlier on Saturday appeared in court in London charged with Everard’s kidnap and murder.

Her body was found in woodland in Kent, about 80 kilometres away from where she was last seen.

Everard's death led many women to share their fears of walking alone and experiences of being harassed or attacked by men in public, with calls for more action to be taken to address violence against women and girls.

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