Sarah Everard vigil: Reclaim These Streets’ legal bid against Met Police explained - and ruling judges made

The four founders of Reclaim These Streets argued against decisions made by the Met Police in advance of the planned vigil

The Metropolitan Police breached the rights of organisers of a vigil for murdered Sarah Everard, High Court judges have ruled.

A socially-distanced vigil for the 33-year-old, who was killed by former Met officer Wayne Couzens, was proposed by Reclaim These Streets (RTS) in March last year.

The four women who founded the group and planned the vigil in Clapham, south London - near where Ms Everard went missing - brought a legal challenge against the force over its handling of the event.

Here we take a look at what the legal challenge was over and the ruling the judges made.

Why a legal challenge was brought against the Met Police

The founders of RTS withdrew from organising the vigil - which was also intended to be a protest about violence against women - after being told by the force they would face fines of £10,000 each and possible prosecution if the event went ahead.

Reclaim These Streets founders (left to right) Henna Shah, Jamie Klingler, Anna Birley and Jessica Leigh celebrate outside the Royal Courts of Justice (PA)

Jessica Leigh, Anna Birley, Henna Shah and Jamie Klingler argued against decisions made by the Met Police in advance of the planned vigil.

They said it amounted to a breach of their human rights to freedom of speech and assembly. The RTS founders also said the force did not assess the potential risk to public health.

Lawyers representing the four told the court at a hearing in January that notes of a Met gold command meeting the day before the proposed event included a statement that “we are seen as the bad guys at the moment and we don’t want to aggravate this”.

Tom Hickman QC, representing the four, said in written arguments: “The most significant ‘threat’ identified was not public health but the perceived reputational risk to the (force), including in the event they were perceived to be permitting or facilitating the vigil.”

The Met defended the claim brought by Reclaim These Streets and argued there was no exception for protest in the coronavirus rules at the time.

What happened at the Sarah Everard vigil?

The organised event by RTS was eventually cancelled and a spontaneous vigil took place instead.

People in the crowd turning on their phone torches in Clapham Common, London, for a vigil for Sarah Everard (PA)

The Met Police’s handling of the event was widely-criticised after women were handcuffed on the ground and led away by officers.

However, a report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services concluded the police “acted appropriately” when dealing with the event.

The same report also called it a “public relations disaster” and described some statements made by members of the force as “tone deaf”.

What was the ruling by the High Court judges?

Two senior judges at the High Court ruled that the Met’s decisions in the run up to the event were “not in accordance with the law”.

In a summary of the ruling, Lord Justice Warby said: “The relevant decisions of the (Met) were to make statements at meetings, in letters, and in a press statement, to the effect that the Covid-19 regulations in force at the time meant that holding the vigil would be unlawful.

“Those statements interfered with the claimants’ rights because each had a ‘chilling effect’ and made at least some causal contribution to the decision to cancel the vigil.

“None of the (force’s) decisions was in accordance with the law; the evidence showed that the (force) failed to perform its legal duty to consider whether the claimants might have a reasonable excuse for holding the gathering, or to conduct the fact-specific proportionality assessment required in order to perform that duty.”

How Reclaim These Streets founder reacted to the ruling

Reclaim These Streets co-founder Jamie Klingler said the ruling represented “absolute vindication”.

Asked why the case was brought against the Metropolitan Police, she said: “The police should have facilitated our reasonable excuse to protest and that’s exactly what we’ve been saying since the Thursday that we tried.

“The whole way, they’ve been making up different things and saying we can’t do it. It was a blanket ban on protest that they weren’t allowed to do.

“Every step of the way there was just condescension and disrespect and they were telling us their hands were tied.”

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