UK police under fire after crackdown on vigil for murdered woman

·2-min read
A police officer has been charged with the murder of Sarah Everard, who disappeared on the evening of March 3

Police in London drew widespread criticism on Saturday after handcuffing protesters at a vigil for a woman who was murdered after setting out to walk home, in a case that has sparked a national debate about violence against women.

Police officers scuffled with some members of the hundreds-strong crowd that gathered in the evening despite coronavirus restrictions for a candlelit tribute close to the spot where 33-year-old marketing executive Sarah Everard disappeared on March 3.

Social media footage showed police restraining and handcuffing some mourners, leading to an outpouring of criticism from across the political spectrum.

"The scenes in Clapham this evening are deeply disturbing," tweeted opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer, referring to the south London area where the vigil was held.

"I share their anger and upset at how this has been handled. This was not the way to police this protest."

The murder of Everard -- who vanished after setting out to walk home from a friend's flat -- has shocked the country and brought the issue of women's safety to the fore.

Conservative MP Steve Baker tweeted of "unspeakable scenes" and urged party leader and Prime Minister Boris Johnson "to change lockdown law now".

Prince William's wife Kate earlier visited the bandstand at Clapham Common in south London, which has turned into a shrine for the victim.

Organisers had cancelled the event after police outlawed it because of Covid-19 restrictions, but hundreds still turned out, with tensions overspilling as night fell.

Protesters shouted "shame on you" at police, with emotions running particularly high as the man charged with Everard's murder is a police officer.

- 'Unbearable pain' -

Wayne Couzens, 48, appeared in court earlier on Saturday charged with kidnap and murder following his arrest at his home in Kent, southeast England. The victim's body was discovered in a nearby wood.

Many more joined in a virtual tribute, including prime minister Johnson and his partner.

"Tonight Carrie and I will be lighting a candle for Sarah Everard and thinking of her family and friends," he wrote on Twitter.

"I cannot imagine how unbearable their pain and grief is. We must work fast to find all the answers to this horrifying crime.

"I will do everything I can to make sure the streets are safe and ensure women and girls do not face harassment or abuse."

Organisers of the vigil said they hoped to raise £320,000 ($445,000) for women's causes.

Everard had visited friends in Clapham and was returning home to Brixton, about 50 minutes walk away, when she disappeared around 9:30 pm.

The case has caused a political fallout, with MP Jess Phillips this week reading out the names of 118 women murdered last year.