Heated clashes between police and mourners broke out Saturday evening in South London when a crowd of people defied the city’s coronavirus lockdown order to mourn the suspected murder of Sarah Everard earlier this month.
What began as a peaceful protest in residential Clapham Common turned contentious hours after Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, visited the memorial to pay her respects to the 33-year-old marketing executive, who was allegedly killed while walking home earlier this month.
Attendees reportedly began to shout “Shame on you!” to police who tried to break up the vigil, which was in defiance of a large gathering ban.
Some in the crowd held signs with messages such as, “We will not be silenced,” “We live in fear,” and “Women’s rights are human rights,” while others waved anti-police slogans. A police officer was charged in Everard’s alleged murder.
Officers were sharply criticized after images surfaced of police aggressively “manhandling” and handcuffing upset mourners at the vigil.
Videos showed officers tussling with participants as they pushed their way through the crowd. At one point, several male officers grabbed hold of several women and pulled them away in handcuffs to screaming and shouting from onlookers, Britain’s Press Association reported.
“Appalling scenes at Clapham Common last night,” Diane Abbott, a member of Parliament, tweeted. “Women at a peaceful vigil about male violence being violently manhandled and handcuffed by police officers.”
Priti Patel, the U.K.’s home secretary, said she has asked the Metropolitan Police for a “full report on what happened,” and some have called on police Commissioner Cressida Dick to resign, according to an ITV News reporter in London.
“The scenes from Clapham Common are unacceptable,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan tweeted. “The police have a responsibility to enforce Covid laws but from images I’ve seen it’s clear the response was at times neither appropriate nor proportionate. I’m in contact with the Commissioner & urgently seeking an explanation.”
Four people were reportedly arrested during the vigil.
Scotland Yard defended officers’ actions, saying they were “placed in a position where enforcement was necessary,” because of the threat of the virus, the Evening Standard in London reported.
Met police’s assistant commissioner in a statement said officers were “faced with a very difficult decision,” during the vigil. “Hundreds of people were packed tightly together, posing a very real risk of easily transmitting Covid-19. Police must act for people’s safety, this is the only responsible thing to do. The pandemic is not over and gatherings of people from right across London and beyond, are still not safe.”
She continued, “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.” She added the vast majority of attendees left after speaking with officers.
Everard was allegedly kidnapped and murdered after leaving a friend’s home in the area on March 3 at around 9 p.m. A London police officer was charged in her killing after her remains were found Friday around 50 miles away in Kent.
The murder has sparked international attention and brought awareness to violence against women and the dangers they sometimes face in everyday activities like walking down a street at night.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.