Anger at Met Police’s two page snub on vigil for Sarah Everard

Anger at Met Police’s two page snub on vigil for Sarah Everard
Cressida Dick was clinging on as head of the Metropolitan Police today despite anger behind the scenes over an official Scotland Yard report into the Clapham Commonvigil that the Standard has learned was “defiant” in tone and ran to just two pages.

The Met Commissioner’s position looked safe for the time being when a senior Downing Street source told the Standard that Boris Johnson had “full confidence” in her and the Policing Minister, Kit Malthouse, hailed her “an officer of superlative achievement”.

However, as more women spoke out about feeling “terrified” on Saturday night and criticised “heavy-handed” policing, there was still a question mark over the long-term future of Dame Cressida and whether she will be offered an extension to her five-year contract which expires next year.

A snap opinion poll revealed two-to-one support for Dame Cressida to keep her job. YouGov found 47 per cent felt she should not resign while 23 per cent said she should go. Among women the divide was 43 to 20, with 37 per cent don’t knows.

It come as research by the Standard today highlights the full extent of sexual crime in London, with more than 18,000 incidents reported in the 12 months to February.

This included 7,172 rapes – up from 6,547 in the 12-month period to March 2017 that overlaps with Sadiq Khan’s first year as mayor – and 10,861 other sexual offences, down from 11,257 over the same period.

But only one in 20 rape allegations in London leads to a suspect being charged, according to the Met’s own figures.

Meanwhile, detectives investigating the killing of 33-year-old marketing executive Sarah Everard, the tragedy that inspired the weekend vigil, were this morning continuing to search a cordoned off an area in the town of Sandwich, Kent.

Police officer Wayne Couzens, 48, has been remanded in custody charged with kidnap and murder.

The Standard has learned that an unpublished Metropolitan Police report into Saturday night’s events is being described as “defiant and defensive” in tone.

It is understood to have presented an account in which elements of the crowd were to blame for the widely-condemned scenes because they turned hostile in the evening after a peaceful day.

However, after dark some sections of the crowd began to behave “more like a protest than a vigil”, according to sources familiar with the report. A decision was taken to disperse protesters tightly gathered around the bandstand, which led to confrontations with protesters.

The Met’s account failed to satisfy the Home Secretary who said there were “still questions to be answered”, and plainly irritated Mayor Sadiq Khan who said after meeting Dame Cressida and her deputy that he was “not satisfied with the explanation they have provided”.

This morning some of the prominent women at the vigil said they felt the police were too heavy handed with people who were not causing trouble.

Patsy Stevenson, the red-haired physics student who was photographed on several front pages being restrained on the ground in handcuffs, told GMB: “I still don’t know why I was pushed to the ground so forcefully.”

She added: “I was only there to lay a candle down and some flowers and show solidarity.”

Gracie Bradley, the interim director of Amnesty, said: “The people I saw creating a public health risk were the police.”

Some MPs were highly critical of the Commissioner’s handling of the episode. Former Cabinet minister Harriet Harman said it was “beyond belief” that Dame Cressida was “refusing to meet or talk” to the pressure group Reclaim The Streets! “They are reflecting fear and concerns of millions of women and girls,” tweeted the MP. “Ignoring them will not make them go away.”

Ken Marsh, chairman of the Met’s Police Federation representing rank-and-file officers, defended officers whom he said were enforcing Covid laws at the vigil where four people were arrested, three of them women.

“They were acting lawfully, policing Covid-19 lockdown laws that a democratically elected Government imposed and that the Mayor of London called on us to enforce to keep Londoners safe,” he said.

“Political leaders should be doing much more to support the police officers they have put in this impossible position.”

He protested: “Around 26 Metropolitan Police officers were assaulted – punched, kicked, spat at and had plastic water bottles thrown at them.

“I recognise the steel of our officers to stand there and be abused in that way.”

Former minister Margot James said: “Terrible though that was, Cressida Dick is one of the best public servants I ever met and she should not resign.”

Dame Cressida’s position was shored up overnight when the Government announced that she will take part in a taskforce chaired by the Prime Minister today to discuss a strategy to curb Violence against Women and Girls.

But one source said the Met’s trenchant report caused “annoyance” because of its lack of regret. Dame Cressida was unrepentant in comments to the media yesterday that hit out against “armchair” critics. “I don’t think anybody who was not in the operation can actually pass a detailed comment on the rightness and wrongness of it. This is fiendishly difficult policing…. I don’t think anybody should be sitting back in an armchair saying what they would do differently.”

Ms Patel and Mr Khan decided separately to ask Sir Tom Winsor, the Chief Inspector of Constabulary, to carry out a review of the policing decisions. After Mr Khan’s statement made clear his anger, one Government source claimed: “Sadiq seems to be throwing Cressida under a bus.”

However, their decisions to refer the matter to Sir Tom gave a breathing space for Dame Cressida to mount her fightback. He is expected to take around a fortnight to reach conclusions. Liberal Democrat Sir Edward Davey called for her resignation, and Women’s Equality Party co-founder Catherine Mayer said her position was “untenable”. But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said she should not quit despite his concern about the events.

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