Thu. Sep 23rd, 2021

The commissioner of the Metropolitan police has said she is not planning to resign over the handling of a vigil for Sarah Everard on Saturday, despite both the home secretary and mayor of London expressing dissatisfaction at her justification for it.

Cressida Dick said in a public statement on Sunday: “What has happened makes me more determined, not less, to lead my organisation … I’m entirely focused on growing the Met to be even stronger.”

Dick’s future had been put into question after the vigil on Clapham Common in south London descended into chaos and allegations of manhandling by police, triggering widespread criticism.

Priti Patel, the home secretary, demanded a report from the Met that was provided on Sunday but left “questions to be answered”, a spokesperson said. A Home Office source said: “By definition if she was satisfied, there would not be questions remaining.”

London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, publicly rebuked the commissioner, who he helped to appoint in 2017 as the first woman to hold the role of Britain’s most senior police chief. Khan said he was “not satisfied” by Dick’s account of why officers clashed with women at the vigil and demanded two independent inquiries.

Dick said she had spoken to the home secretary and mayor and was “very comfortable” with the prospect of an investigation into how the vigil was policed, adding: “I think officers will be as well.” She said the review would be “good for public confidence”.

Khan said the scenes on Saturday night were unacceptable after he summoned Dick and her deputy, Sir Stephen House, to City Hall to explain themselves.

In a statement the Labour mayor said he had asked and received assurances from the Met last week that the vigil would be policed sensitively. Khan, a former human rights lawyer, said these assurances had not been adhered to.

'Police are trying to silence us': officers clash with mourners at Sarah Everard vigil – video
‘Police are trying to silence us’: officers clash with mourners at Sarah Everard vigil – video

The rejection by the London mayor and home secretary of the Met’s justifications left the commissioner fighting for her job, with just over a year of her five-year term remaining.

In a statement the Home Office said: “The home secretary has read the report provided by the Metropolitan police and feels there are still questions to be answered. In the interests of ensuring public confidence in the police, earlier this afternoon the home secretary asked Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to conduct a lessons learned review into the policing of the event at Clapham Common.”

The London mayor went further. In his statement, Khan said: “The scenes arising from the policing of the vigil for Sarah Everard held on Clapham Common last night were completely unacceptable. My thoughts remain with Sarah’s family at this awful time.

“Last week I called on the government and police to work with the organisers of the vigil to clarify the law and find a way for it to take place legally and safely. On Friday a high court judge made clear there was a window to agree a way for a vigil to go ahead safely. I received assurances from the Metropolitan police last week that the vigil would be policed sensitively. In my view, this was not the case.

“I asked the commissioner and deputy commissioner to come into City Hall today to give me an explanation of yesterday’s events and the days leading up to them. I am not satisfied with the explanation they have provided.

“I will now be asking Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to conduct a full independent investigation of events yesterday evening and in previous days. I am also asking the Independent Office for Police Conduct to investigate the actions of police officers yesterday evening.”

He added: “It is vital that these events are not allowed to undermine the powerful calls since Sarah’s [alleged] murder for meaningful action to finally stop men inflicting violence on women. It was clear before yesterday that there isn’t adequate trust and confidence from women and girls in the police and criminal justice system more widely. Further steps must now be taken to address this.”

The statement did not address the issue of whether the mayor has full confidence in the commissioner.

A source said the talks between the police chiefs and mayor were “frank, forthright and respectful”. While police are operationally independent, the mayor has oversight of Britain’s biggest force.

Sources said Priti Patel was “personally upset” by images of women being grabbed by police at the candlelit vigil, which the Duchess of Cambridge had visited earlier on Saturday.

The mayor’s intervention came as the force’s response to officers clashing with women was described as being “from the handbook of abusers” by Nimco Ali, a government adviser on tackling violence against women and girls.

Ali, who is friends with Boris Johnson’s fiancee, Carrie Symonds, also attacked “toxic masculinity” in policing around the world. She spoke out amid widespread criticism of Saturday evening’s “disturbing” scenes on Clapham Common.

Writing on Twitter, Ali criticised a Met statement saying officers acted to enforce coronavirus laws. “The Met statement regarding last night is victim blaming BS right from the handbook of abusers. ‘You made me do it.’ ‘I had to do what I had to because I cared.’ Honestly what is going on with this force?” she tweeted.

She said she was speaking as an activist not a government adviser.

Later, Ali told Times Radio: “Honestly, it does come from the handbook of abusive men, where … you’re constantly blaming the victim for your act of violence, so rather than actually taking accountability it was more like ‘women should not have turned up’.

“The police had the opportunity to choose how they reacted and they reacted in a terrible way and a disproportionate way.”

Defending the police’s actions, the Met assistant commissioner Helen Ball said: “We absolutely did not want to be in a position where enforcement action was necessary. But we were placed in this position because of the overriding need to protect people’s safety.”

The former chief constable of Greater Manchester police Sir Peter Fahy told the Guardian the coronavirus laws voted through by parliament left police in an impossible position. “If politicians are going to rush to judgment on the basis of mobile phone footage, having previously demanded police take firmer action breaking up gatherings, all police chiefs [are] in an impossible position,” he said.

The leader of the Met’s rank and file officers also took a swipe at politicians. Ken Marsh, the chair of the Met Police Federation, said: “Politicians of all parties should make themselves aware of all the facts before rushing to judgment and making statements.”

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