Women arrested at Sarah Everard memorial: 'Handcuffing us was disgraceful'

Police accused of aggression at London vigil for marketing executive

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A woman who was pinned to the ground by police at a vigil for Sarah Everard in London described her treatment as “disgraceful”.

Patsy Stevenson was one of four women arrested for breaching Covid regulations as thousands gathered in Clapham Common, south London, near to where the marketing executive, 33, was seen walking home before she disappeared on March 3.

Everard’s body was found 80 kilometres away, on March 10, and a serving Metropolitan Police officer, Wayne Couzens, 48, has been charged with her kidnap and murder.

The vigil turned ugly after it was deemed unlawful by police, who then moved to break it up.

Ms Stevenson, 28, a physics student from Southend, south-east England, said she was still unsure why she had been detained when she was “just standing there”.

She said she felt terrified as a police officer leading her away said he had a baton.

“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.”

Ms Stevenson said she was still deciding whether to challenge a £200 ($278) fine she received for breaching Covid regulations.

“I was arrested by police for standing there,” she told the activist group Counterfire. “I wasn’t doing anything. They threw me to the floor.

“They have pictures of me on the floor being arrested. I’m 5ft 2 and I weigh nothing. Several police were on my back trying to arrest me. They arrested me in cuffs and dragged me away surrounded by 10 police officers.

“When I got in the van, they said: ‘All we need is your name and address and then we’ll let you go with a fine,’ so I don’t see the point of the arrest, to be honest.”

Asked if she would attend future protests, she said: “I don’t think it’s safe for people to go. There’s not much more I can say about it at the moment.”

Dania Al-Obeid, who was also arrested, said she knew the vigil had been cancelled but she “needed to go and pay my respects”.

Ms Al-Obeid said she felt “conflicted” during her arrest as she understood that the police officers had been following orders.

"I think that is where the frustration was. The bigger picture here was lost – we felt like we were silenced," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Women who were at the vigil described peaceful scenes around a makeshift memorial at a bandstand before police moved to shut the event down.

The advocacy group Liberty said that initially there had not been a heavy police presence, with officers spread out along the perimeter of the stage in groups of twos and threes.

Police moved on to the bandstand at about 6.20pm in response to people who were addressing the crowd. Those who refused to leave the bandstand were threatened with arrest.

Safeguarding Minister Victoria Atkins said “the police will have to explain” images of women being arrested.

Ms Atkins described the policing tactics as “disgusting”.

“We were there to remember Sarah,” Ms Stevenson said. “We all felt deeply saddened, and still do, that it happened. So I brought a candle with me but unfortunately wasn’t even able to light it to put it down because the police turned up and barged their way through.

“There does need to be a change where women have freedom to live their lives in peace, without fear.”

Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, was among those who paid her respects on Saturday.

The police response was markedly different when thousands gathered again in central London on Sunday to highlight violence against women.

Campaign group Sisters Uncut held a demonstration it said was to remember Everard and protest police brutality. Police took a hands-off approach to the protest, outside the Metropolitan Police headquarters at New Scotland Yard, and did not intervene.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said London’s police force and a watchdog would conduct separate reviews into the handling of the vigil.

“Like everyone who saw it, I was deeply concerned about the footage from Clapham Common on Saturday night,” Mr Johnson said.

Arrests at Sarah Everard vigil - in pictures