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Met officers justify breaking up Sarah Everard vigil as it became ‘anti-police protest’

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et Police officers started arresting attendees at the vigil for Sarah Everard when they believed it had become an “anti-police protest” and say they feared violent attack, it has been revealed.

Six people are being prosecuted by Scotland Yard over the incident on March 13, 2021, when a large group of people gathered at the bandstand on Clapham Common in the wake of Ms Everard’s abduction, rape and murder by serving Met officer Wayne Couzens.

The accounts of that night from police officers can be revealed for the first time, after they told Westminster magistrates court they faced stubborn resistance when trying to break up the gathering using Covid laws, had feared being attacked, and were branded “murderers” by some in the crowd.

“The mood of the crowd had also shifted from showing respect to Sarah Everard to anti-police protest”, claimed PC Alexander Davis, in witness statements obtained by the Evening Standard.

“Over the course of the early evening the crowd size of the vigil increased to the 1000 strong members and it quickly became an anti-police demonstration.”

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He said Deputy Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist gave the instruction at around 7pm for Covid enforcement to begin, including arrests of women who were stood by the bandstand.

People gather at the band stand in Clapham Common after the Reclaim These Streets vigil for Sarah Everard was officially cancelled (PA)

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PC Darryl Mayne said swelling numbers of people at the vigil ignored social distancing guidelines, prompting the police to act.

“There was a clear breach of coronavirus regulations taking place”, he wrote. “I would describe the hostility as aggressive loud chants that I believed to be aimed at the police officers.

“From my own recollection I recall the crowd screaming what I believed to be the following ‘GO AWAY’ ‘MURDERERS’ ‘ARREST YOUR OWN’.

“Something that also stood out to me why present at location was the crowd shout ‘IT SHOULD BE YOU’ to officers which caused me to feel distress upon hearing this.”

An official vigil by campaign group Reclaim These Streets had been blocked by the Met when organisers were threatened with £10,000 fines under the Covid restrictions on gatherings.

However that decision has since been ruled as unlawful by the High Court, as the Met failed to properly consider the rights to freedom of speech and assembly.

Dania Al-Obeid, 27, from Stratford, east London, Vivien Hohmann, 20, of Clapham, Ben Wheeler, 21, from Kennington, and Manchester resident Kevin Godin-Prior, 68, all attended a spontaneous gathering that occurred that evening, and are now being prosecuted. Jade Spence, 33, of Lambeth, and Jenny Edmunds, 32, of Lewisham, have also been charged.

Crowds clashed with police after hundreds gathered on Clapham Common on March 13, 2020 in the wake of Sarah Everard’s death. (Victoria Jones/PA)

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PC Davis, who arrested Ms Hohmann, accused her of “ignoring” requests to leave the area, justifying her arrest as she “did not look at me or speak to me”. “As I spoke to her a cardboard placard with anti-police messages was thrusted into my face”, he said. “The placard was placed between myself and Hohmann and I believe this was done in order to create a barrier between Hohmann and I.” The PC said Hohmann refused to give out her name and address when she was initially arrested and put up “instant resistance” as she was being detained. “A large crowd gathered around myself and PC Chamberlain and began to grab hold of Hohmann to pull her away from me”, he continued.

“Other police officers then got involved and began to move the crowd away from PC Chamberlain and myself. Hohmann was putting up active resistance and I could feel her trying to retract her arm away from me. I maintained a grip of her forearm and wrist and placed her into an ordinary police hold as I had been taught in my officer safety training.”

Ms Hohman, who was given water by police after feeling faint, ultimately gave her personal details and was de-arrested.

She has pleaded not guilty to the charge, echoing the High Court ruling as she told the court in a written submission: “Met Police breached rights of vigil organisers/attendees/unlawful”, adding: “Not in the interest of the public.”

Sarah Everard (Family handout/PA)

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PC Mayne said Ms Al-Obeid was part of a group of four women who had interlinked their arms in front of the bandstand, and is also accused of ignoring requests to leave the vigil.

“She continued chanting towards the crowd words to the effects of ‘WHO DO YOUR PROTECT’ to me this became clear that Al-Obeid was not trying to engage with officers who were speaking to her”, he said.

“ I was aware that Al-Obeid was aware of my presences as she slightly turns her head towards my direction as I was speaking to her, before quickly turning it back in the direction of the crowd.

“I have then taken hold of Miss Al-Obeid’s left forearm with both of my hands to try and take control of the situation to allow me place Al-Obeid in an ordinary police hold which is an approved police tactic we are taught as part of our officer safety training.

“Upon doing this Miss Al-Obeid has raised her left arm and has tried to pull away from me. At this moment I suspected that Al-Obeid was trying to prevent me from detaining her, I was aware that Al-Obeid had previously not wanted to engage with officers and I had witnesses Al-Obeid shout aggressive chants regarding officers being ‘MURDRERS’ however I was unsure whether she was going physically assault officers once she had realised officers were detaining her.”

A woman talks to a police officer during a gathering in Clapham Common, London, after the Reclaim These Streets vigil for Sarah Everard was officially cancelled (Victoria Jones/PA)

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The PC said he struggled to hear over the “roar” of the crowd, and led Ms Al-Obeid away from the vigil where she was told she would be issued with a Fixed Penalty Notice.

Ms Al-Obeid, a marketing manager, said last week she was unaware of the prosecution until being contacted by the media, and is considering fighting the charge: “This isn’t about the £200, I’ve had people come forward and offer to pay this. It’s about what this fine represents.

“I’ve requested any updates regarding the fine to be made via email as I’m not in the country, however the first I hear of this charge is via the media.

“It’s been dealt with so poorly from start to finish and I’m just expected to roll over and accept this treatment. I’m considering fighting this as it’s simply not fair.”

In his statement to the court, Inspector Dave Laurie explained police attended the bandstand because they recognised “feelings and sentiment was strong” about Ms Everard’s murder, and although the planned RTS event had been cancelled they knew a gathering would still take place.

He and a Sergeant received advance warning that the Duchess of Cambridge planned to attend the vigil in the afternoon, and noted a “sombre” mood around the bandstand.

“Several people were clearly coming to the bandstand, paying their respects, then leaving”, he said. “Most if not all were wearing face coverings and keeping social distancing.”

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

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Inspector Laurie said some thanked police for the way they were handling the event, and he said a small girl “thanked me for catching the bad policeman quickly”, in a reference to Couzens.

However, he told the court the mood started to change as the numbers of people swelled from 5.30pm, and more attendees arrived at the bandstand and did not leave.

He also noticed anti-vaxxer Piers Corbyn in the crowd and a man playing a large bongo drum, and said a local councillor made a speech from the bandstand before encouraging attendees to disperse.

“I remember feeling sad that what started out as a vigil with people adhering to the coronavirus regulations had changed significantly and that I wasn’t convinced people were there to solely pay their respects in remembrance of Sarah Everard, and that they did not intend to leave the area any time soon.”

Wayne Couzens (Met Police/PA)

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Inspector Laurie said the four women locking arms in front of the bandstand were targeted for arrest once a senior officer had approved the action.

“I felt as though I had no choice, they had blatantly ignored our attempts to engage with them despite my and other officer’s perseverance.”

News of the prosecutions have sparked renewed anger at the Met’s handling of the vigil, fuelled by the High Court ruling that the force had acted unlawfully by blocking the organised RTS event.

The criminal charges were authorised by the force in late March, and were before Westminster magistrates court last Wednesday. The outcomes of the hearings remains unknown.

A not guilty plea from Hohmann has been disclosed by the court, but no pleas have been revealed for Al-Obeid, Wheeler, or Godin-Prior.

The cases of Spence and Edmunds are due to be dealt with on June 15.

https://www.standard.co.uk/news/crime/met-officers-sarah-everard-vigil-protest-arrests-prosecution-b1004602.html