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Police search military tunnels near family garage of Sarah Everard murder suspect cop

Met referred to police watchdog FIVE TIMES over disappearance of Sarah Everard and the arrest of their own officer over her kidnap and murder 

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) started an investigation last night into the Met’s handling of the Sarah Everard case and allegations relating to the prime suspect Wayne Couzens.

There are five referrals in total, these are: 

Referral 1:  Whether two Met officers responded appropriately to a report that Wayne Couzens, 48, allegedly exposed himself at a south London restaurant on February 28 – three days before Sarah Everard vanished.

Status: The IOPC has launched an investigation

Referral 2: The actions of the police after they received a report of Miss Everard’s disappearance on March 3.

Status: IOPC is considering whether to launch an investigation 

Referral 3: A police conduct referral about Couzens relating to his arrest for the alleged kidnap and murder of Miss Everard.

Status: The IOPC has determined the matter should be investigated by the MPS. 

Referral 4: A police conduct referral about Couzens in relation to the alleged indecent exposure he has been arrested for.

Status: The IOPC has determined the matter should be investigated by the MPS.

Referral 5: Police care for Couzens in custody after he was taken to a hospital for treatment yesterday to a head injury sustained while in custody in a cell alone. He was being monitored by CCTV at the time.

Status: IOPC is considering whether to launch an investigation.

The body found hidden in Kent woodland has been identified as Sarah Everard, police revealed today.

Speaking outside Scotland Yard, Assistant Commissioner Nick Ephgrave said that Miss Everard’s heartbroken family had been told this ‘most distressing news’.    

And amid growing fury that a serving policeman may be responsible, he said he understood why the public ‘feel hurt and angry’ after Sarah, 33, was kidnapped from the streets of London, killed and ‘secreted’ in woods near Ashford.

The Met officer suspected of her murder, Wayne Couzens, 48, remains in custody today after detectives requested more time to question him after he injured himself in his cell at Wandsworth police station yesterday.

It came as detectives investigating Couzens are today combing the network of military tunnels in the White Cliffs of Dover running under his family’s former garage and Britain’s police watchdog probed claims the suspect flashed someone at a drive-thru McDonald’s three days before Miss Everard vanished.

Teams of officers are also searching at his home and garden in Deal and the woodland near Ashford where Sarah’s body was found on Wednesday.

Assistant Commissioner Ephgrave said: ‘As you know, on Wednesday evening detectives investigating the disappearance of Sarah Everard discovered a body secreted in woodland in Kent.

‘The body has now been recovered and formal identification procedure has now been undertaken. I can now confirm that it is the body of Sarah.’  

He said his ‘thoughts and prayers, and those of the entire organisation’ remain with Sarah Everard’s family ‘at this awful time’.

He added: ‘Specialist officers remain in constant contact with Sarah’s family, and will continue to support them throughout the investigation and beyond.

‘That investigation continues at a pace and we have hundreds of officers working round the clock to establish the full circumstances of Sarah’s disappearance, and her murder.’ 

As the Met banned a vigil in Sarah’s honour on Clapham Common tomorrow, Nick Ephgrave said: ‘I know that the public feel hurt and angry about what has happened, and those are sentiments that I share personally, and I know my colleagues here at Scotland Yard and across the Met share as well.

‘I also recognise the wider concerns that have been raised, quite rightly, about the safety of women in public spaces in London and also elsewhere in the country.

‘I want to say now that this organisation, and the men and women in it, remain committed to protecting Londoners wherever they are in this city.

‘And that commitment is undiminished by these events and if anything that commitment is strengthened by these tragic circumstances.’

Officers are looking for evidence in three locations as it emerged Wayne Couzens served in the territorial army in Kent in the 2000s before joining the police guarding the nuclear power plant at Dungeness and embassies in London until his arrest on Tuesday.

Couzens served with the 3rd battalion, the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment reservists from 2002 to 2004, which has its HQ in Canterbury, and is where he first handled guns.

He also worked part time at his father’s garage business BCB Dover, which is sealed off today and is built over a spiralling network of former military tunnels being searched by officers this afternoon. The garage is above the famous St Martin’s Battery, a gun emplacement on the cliff overlooking the Channel towards France. 

The confirmation that Sarah Everard is dead and the turmoil at Scotland Yard came as:

  • Police search military tunnels near family garage of Sarah Everard murder suspect cop in Dover as it’s revealed he served in Territorial Army 17 years ago;
  • Organisers of the Sarah Everard vigil launch emergency legal challenge against Met’s decision to ban it; 
  • Sarah Everard’s family paid an emotional tribute to their ‘bright and beautiful’ daughter and sister; 
  • The Green Party’s Baroness Jones stands behind her call for a 6pm curfew for men after Sarah’s murder; 

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick confirmed human remains have been found in the week-long search for 33-year-old marketing executive Sarah Everard, hours after the force arrested one of its own officers, Wayne Couzens, on suspicion of murder

Wayne Couzens is presented with an award for his achievements during his time in the territorial army between 2002-2004. He is in custody arrested on suspicion of murdering Sarah Everard, whose body was formally identified

Metropolitan police have put up a forensics tent and sealed off the garage previously owned by the Couzens family which backs onto the tunnels now being searched by specialist officers today

Metropolitan police have put up a forensics tent and sealed off the garage previously owned by the Couzens family which backs onto the tunnels now being searched by specialist officers today

Police officers are carrying out fingertip searches of an area of grass land behind the suspect's house in Deal today

Police officers are carrying out fingertip searches of an area of grass land behind the suspect’s house in Deal today

Metropolitan Police officers removed their hats in respect alongside funeral directors with the Private Ambulance carrying the remains found in Hoad's Wood near Ashford in Kent left the area

Metropolitan Police officers removed their hats in respect alongside funeral directors with the Private Ambulance carrying the remains found in Hoad’s Wood near Ashford in Kent left the area

The BCB garage where the murder suspect worked is close to Dover's network of military tunnels running through the cliffs above the docks. Woodland near Ashford and the suspect's house in Deal

The BCB garage where the murder suspect worked is close to Dover’s network of military tunnels running through the cliffs above the docks. Woodland near Ashford and the suspect’s house in Deal

The disappearance of Sarah Everard and the arrest of armed policeman Wayne Couzens

2020/2021: Wayne Couzens is said to have been behaving erratically and had spent a considerable period of time off sick for an unknown issue.

February 28: Couzens allegedly exposes himself in a south London takeaway. 

The incident is now being investigated by Britain’s police watchdog. It is not clear if Couzens was arrested, spoken to or of officers even attended the incident at the unnamed restaurant.

But it is known that Couzens continued to work as an armed police officer after the incident.

March 3: Sarah vanished ‘into thin air’ after leaving friend’s home Clapham around 9pm. She leaves out of her friend’s back gate and speaks to her boyfriend on the phone for 15 minutes. 

Around three miles away Wayne Couzens finishes a 6-hour shift guarding the US Embassy in Battersea. 

March 5: Sarah’s family share missing posters of her after they become increasingly concerned that she is still not home, spreading the word online with links to the Missing People charity.

March 6: Met Police release an appeal, saying Sarah was thought to have walked through Clapham Common, heading towards Brixton home, a journey of 50 minutes. They say they are not certain she ever arrived home.

March 7: Police release footage of Ms Everard and say she was walking alone on A205 Poynders Road towards Tulse Hill when she was last seen on CCTV, which has not been released to the police.

March 8: Specialist officers are drafted and 120 calls from public come in. A door-to-door operation sees police speak to 750 families

March 9: Police search gardens near Ms Everard’s route and nearby Oaklands Estate.

Officers also search a pond in Clapham Common and drains along the A205 

Cordon around the Poynders Court housing complex on Poynders Road, forensics officers on scene 

11.59pm: Met police officer Wayne Couzens arrested in Kent on suspicion of kidnap. A 39-year-old woman at the same address is arrested on suspicion of assisting an offender.

Neighbours say they spotted a Land Rover containing two men watching the property for two hours before around 20 officers raided the house.

A shirtless Couzens was led from the house in handcuffs with one witness saying: ‘He looked very calm – just walked out’.

March 10: Specialist police search team arrives in Kent. They search Couzens’ home and garden as well as nearby Betteshanger Park which is around two-and-a-half- miles from the house as well as an abandoned leisure complex in Great Chart near Ashford.

3pm: Met Police confirm the arrested man is an officer in the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Command. They disclose he has now been re-arrested on suspicion of the murder of Sarah Everard and the indecent exposure of a second woman. They refuse to say when or where the alleged indecent exposure took place.

8pm: Dame Cressida Dick confirms human remains were found in woodland in Ashford, Kent in the search for Sarah.  She was unable to confirm whether the remains belonged to the missing woman. 

March 11:  10am: Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was ‘shocked and deeply saddened by the developments in the Sarah Everard investigation’, adding ‘we must work fast to find all the answers to this horrifying crime’.

Home Secretary Priti Patel added: ‘Every woman should feel safe to walk on our streets without fear of harassment or violence. At this deeply sad and tragic time as we think and pray for Sarah and her family’. 

4pm: Police later confirm the suspect was treated in hospital for a head injury sustained while in custody, before being returned to a police station.

Ms Everard’s family release a statement paying tribute to her as a ‘shining example to us all’, adding that she ‘brought so much joy to our lives’.

The Met reveals an extension to the suspect’s detention was granted by a magistrates’ court, while the woman arrested on suspicion of assisting an offender is released on bail to return to a police station on a date in mid-April.

6pm: The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) says it has launched an investigation into the Met’s response to a report of indecent exposure following referrals linked to the arrest of the suspect.

The police watchdog says its independent probe follows a ‘conduct referral’ from the force in relation to two officers, and will look at the Met’s actions after it received a report on February 28 that ‘a man had exposed himself at a fast food restaurant in south London’.

Organisers of a vigil for Ms Everard say they are seeking legal action against the Met after claiming the force reversed its position on allowing the event planned for March 13 to go ahead.

March 12: Searches ramp up in the tunnels carved into the White Cliffs of Dover that run around and below Couzens’ family garage. 

Teams remain at Couzens’ home in Deal and in woodland near Ashford where human remains were found. 

2pm: Scotland Yard confirms the body found in Kent woodland is Sarah. Her family have been informed.

Forensics teams are still searching woodland near Ashford where human remains feared to belong to Sarah were found this week, while Couzens’ house in Deal is also sealed off with a team still working in the garden and in the fields behind it. 

It came as Scotland Yard is faces an inquiry after it was revealed Couzens was accused of flashing someone in a takeaway just 72 hours before she was kidnapped – but remained on armed duty. 

It is one of five complaints sent to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) by the Met.

Couzens was reported to police after allegedly exposing himself at a south London restaurant on February 28. 

Scotland Yard and the IOPC are not commenting on whether officers attended the incident or spoke to Couzens, who continued to work as an armed marksman afterwards. 

Miss Everard disappeared on March 3 at about 9pm – an hour after Couzens is said to have finished a six-hour shift guarding the US Embassy near Battersea Powerstation at 8pm on the same night she ‘vanished into thin air’ as she walked home to nearby Brixton. 

Police arrested the suspect at home in Deal on Tuesday following a tip-off about a car allegedly spotted on a motorist’s dashcam near to where the missing woman was last seen. Yesterday a CCTV clip showing a woman passenger in a car was being examined.

A woman, 39, who was arrested at the same address on suspicion of assisting an offender, has been released on bail to return to a police station on a date in mid-April.  

MailOnline can reveal that Couzens had his first armed police job protecting Dungeness Nuclear Power station as part of Britain’s Strategic Escort Group.

It saw him equipped with a Heckler & Koch G36 rifle as he accompanied nuclear material being transported around the country by road, rail or sea.

But the prestige role came to an abrupt end when he suddenly failed his yearly fitness test. It meant he was effectively demoted to guarding the power station building with the travel halted.

The new searches came after Couzens was back in custody after being found unconscious with ‘serious self-inflicted head injuries’ in his cell it emerged last night as police also revealed a separate indecent exposure allegation he faces took place three days before her disappearance. 

He was arrested late on Tuesday on suspicion of the kidnap and murder of marketing executive Miss Everard, 33, and indecently exposing himself to woman working at a south London takeaway restaurant.    

Metropolitan Police have confirmed an investigation has been launched into whether officers responded ‘appropriately’ to the indecent exposure report, which was received by Scotland Yard on February 28 – three days before Sarah vanished while walking home in Clapham. 

Sources told The Daily Mail the allegation may not have reached ‘command level,’ so colleagues were unlikely to be aware of it, meaning he was able to continue working as an armed officer right up until his arrest.

They also said the officer had been behaving erratically and had spent a considerable period of time off sick for an unknown issue.

Couzens, 48, was found unconscious in Wandsworth police station on Wednesday. 

He was rushed to hospital under armed guard after being given first aid inside the station.

Couzens is understood by MailOnline to have been taken to A&E at nearby St George’s Hospital in Tooting before before being returned to custody after treatment.

He has been returned to custody, and while police have refused to comment on whether or not the injuries were self-inflicted, Met sources said no arrests were expected to be made. 

The incident has been referred to the Independent Office for Police Conduct.

The IOPC has upheld a separate referral relating to the Met’s handling of an allegation of indecent exposure, which Couzens was also arrested over. 

The shocking development came as the heartbroken family of Miss Everard, 33, paid tribute to her last night, describing her as a ‘shining example to us all’. 

Yesterday PC Couzens was taken to hospital following an injury behind bars after his arrest on Tuesday on suspicion of murder and kidnap.

He was found unconscious in a custody cell in Wandsworth, south London, with head wounds that were said to be self-inflicted.

Suspects are supposed to be monitored every 15 minutes under normal custody rules for potentially vulnerable prisoners.

PC Couzens has since been discharged and returned to custody for further questioning.   

Scotland Yard has referred the matter to the police watchdog, one of five referrals.

The IOPC has upheld a separate referral relating to the Met’s handling of an allegation of indecent exposure, which Couzens was also arrested over. 

Met Police confirmed it had referred itself to the IOPC in relation to the injuries suffered by the suspect, as well as the conduct of two officers relating its investigation into alleged indecent exposure.

A statement released by Scotland Yard read: ‘Following the arrest of a police officer, the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) made two referrals, one mandatory and one voluntary, to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).

‘These were linked to the conduct of the officer arrested on suspicion of kidnap, murder and indecent exposure.

‘The IOPC has determined both these matters should be locally investigated by the MPS.

‘We also made a mandatory referral in relation to the actions of police after Sarah was reported missing. We await the IOPC’s assessment.

‘A further voluntary referral was made for a conduct matter in relation to the police investigation into the separate allegations of indecent exposure. The IOPC have determined this will be subject to an independent IOPC investigation.

‘We have made another mandatory referral to the IOPC after the man arrested was taken to a hospital for treatment to a head injury sustained while in custody in a cell alone. He was being monitored by CCTV and received immediate first aid. We await the IOPC’s assessment.’

The officer, who was part of an elite unit guarding Downing Street, the Palace of Westminster and embassies, is suspected of abducting Miss Everard as she walked home from a friend’s house in Clapham, south London, on Wednesday last week.

Police arrested the suspect following a tip-off about a car allegedly spotted on a motorist’s dashcam near to where the missing woman was last seen.

Yesterday a CCTV clip showing a woman passenger in a car was being examined.

On the night of her disappearance PC Couzens had just come off duty after a 2pm to 8pm relief shift at the US Embassy in Nine Elms, south-west London, about three miles from where she was last seen.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said it had sent ‘waves of shock’ through the force.

The Couzens' former garage is on the White Cliffs above the Port of Dover, which is full of tunnels dating back centuries

The Couzens’ former garage is on the White Cliffs above the Port of Dover, which is full of tunnels dating back centuries

The military tunnels in Dover and the Fort on Western Heights of Dover, England, also being looked at by police today

The military tunnels in Dover and the Fort on Western Heights of Dover, England, also being looked at by police today

Yesterday Victim Support revealed its support line has been flooded with calls from concerned women.

The events have prompted an outpouring of shock and anger as women across the country shared their own experiences of feeling unsafe.

Last night police were still questioning PC Couzens after a warrant of further detention was granted at Wimbledon magistrates’ court.

A woman, who was arrested on Tuesday on suspicion of assisting an offender, has been released on bail to return to a police station on a date in mid-April.

Met Police BAN reclaim these streets march in memory of Sarah Everard under Covid lockdown legislation – as organisers go to the High Court

Police have threatened to fine organisers of a vigil planned following the suspected kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard – so organisers now plan to go to the High Court.

The Reclaim These Streets event was set to take place on Clapham Common bandstand at 6pm on Saturday, near where Miss Everard was last seen.

But organisers claimed last night they were told by the Metropolitan Police ‘the vigil would be unlawful and… we could face tens of thousands of pounds in fines and criminal prosecution’.

They launched an online fundraiser last night to raise £30,000 to cover legal costs. It had exceeded the target within one house.

The group plan to challenge the police’s interpretation of coronavirus legislation in the High Court today. Several vigils had been planned across the UK.

A statement said: ‘Should the judge decide against us, we may be liable for the Metropolitan Police’s costs of us to £30,000.

‘We will also be forced to cancel the vigil, and no women across England will be able to assemble to assert their rights.

‘The only way for us to proceed is to crowdfund the potential costs of £30,000, which we need to raise by 9am tomorrow morning.

‘If we win the judgement tomorrow, the money raised will be donated to a women’s charity.’

The event’s Facebook page states that the vigil is for and about all women who have felt unsafe and is open to all.

Attenders are invited to ‘bring a light to remember those we’ve lost’.

Under covid lockdown laws, police can break up illegal gatherings and issue fines of £10,000 for someone holding a gathering of over 30 people.

Reclaim These Streets said it was ‘always aware of the challenges of organising a Covid-secure vigil, but safety has been a top priority from the beginning’.

The group said it had contacted Lambeth Council and the Met Police and initially received a ‘positive response’.

‘Since this statement, the Metropolitan Police have reversed their position and stated that the vigil would be unlawful and that, as organisers, we could face tens of thousands of pounds in fines and criminal prosecution under the Serious Crimes Act,’ the group said.

If the group wins its legal challenge it said it would donate the money to a women’s charity.

One of the organisers of a vigil for Sarah Everard said that they had tried to be ‘thoughtful’ with safety measures.

Anna Birley told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Safety has been a priority from the get go.

‘It would be ironic to organise a vigil to think about women’s safety in public spaces without also thinking about the health and safety aspects.’

She said that the location of Clapham Common was in-part chosen as it is a ‘wide open space’, while organisers had emphasised wearing masks and the importance of social distancing.

She added: ‘We were trying to be very thoughtful. We had QR codes so that people could do track and trace, and just really trying to work out how we can do this in a really safe way.’   

Searches continued at Hoard’s Wood near Ashford, Kent, a private 500-acre patch thick with trees and brambles. It is 30 miles from PC Couzens’s home address in Deal, where he lives with his Ukraine-born wife Elena.

The heartbroken family of Sarah Everard paid tribute to her last night, describing her as a ‘shining example to us all’.

The parents of the 33-year-old marketing executive told of their devastation after their ‘wonderful daughter’ was allegedly snatched from the street by a stranger as she walked home a week ago on Wednesday.

Now the family face an agonising wait for the formal identification of human remains found in woodland near Ashford, Kent, on Wednesday.

Miss Everard’s father Jeremy, 67, a professor of electronics at the University of York, and her mother Susan, 63, travelled down to London to help police in their search soon after Miss Everard went missing on the night of March 3.

In a statement they said: ‘Our beautiful daughter Sarah was taken from us and we are appealing for any information that will help to solve this terrible crime.

‘Sarah was bright and beautiful – a wonderful daughter and sister. She was kind and thoughtful, caring and dependable. She always put others first and had the most amazing sense of humour.

‘She was strong and principled and a shining example to us all. We are very proud of her and she brought so much joy to our lives.

‘We would like to thank our friends and family for all their support during this awful time and we would especially like to thank Sarah’s friends who are working tirelessly to help.’

Steve Lewis, Miss Everard’s head teacher at Fulford School, York, told The Times she was ‘popular and well-liked’ and a ‘lovely, bright, intelligent girl who shone within the school’.

She went on to achieve a 2:1 degree in geography at Durham University in 2008 and moved to London about 12 years ago to pursue her career in marketing.

She took a six-month break in 2013 to travel to South America, spending a month at the carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, before travelling to Iguazu Falls and Buenos Aires, in Argentina.

She supported the Matthew Elvidge Trust, a mental health charity set up in memory of a student who took his own life in 2009.

Miss Everard had just started a new job and was in a relationship with Josh Lowth, 33, a marketing director.

She had made a 15-minute call to him as she walked home, ringing off shortly before police believe she was abducted in Poynders Road, in Clapham, south London.

The family’s statement last night also included an impassioned plea for information from the public.

It is hoped witnesses will come forward, which may help detectives piece together Miss Everard’s last movements.

Despite learning that the prime suspect in the case is a Metropolitan Police officer, the family expressed their faith in the investigation team.

‘We are so grateful to the police and would like to thank them for all they are doing,’ they said. ‘We are now pleading for additional help from the public. Please come forward and speak to the police if you have any information.

‘No piece of information is too insignificant’.

Police have threatened organisers of a vigil planned in the wake of the suspected killing of Sarah Everard with £10,000 fines for breaking lockdown rules.

The Reclaim These Streets event was set to take place in Clapham at 6pm on Saturday, near where Miss Everard was last seen.

It was intended as a show of defiance against reported police instructions to women in the area to not go out alone.

The organisers wrote on Facebook: ‘It’s wrong that the response to violence against women requires women to behave differently.’ Similar vigils were planned in cities including Cardiff and Liverpool.

The group said it had contacted Lambeth council and the Met and received a ‘positive response’. But organisers claimed last night they were told by the Met ‘the vigil would be unlawful and … we could face tens of thousands of pounds in fines and criminal prosecution’. The organisers had advised attendees to wear masks and practise social distancing. They plan to challenge the police’s interpretation of coronavirus legislation in the High Court today.

They launched an online fundraiser last night to raise £30,000 to cover legal costs. It had exceeded the target within one hour.

Under lockdown laws, police can issue fines of £10,000 for someone holding a gathering of more than 30 people.

The Met was contacted for comment.

Two officers in an unmarked Land Rover were said to have been watching Couzens’ house he shares with his Ukrainian wife Elena in Deal, Kent, for two hours before 20 police sprinted in from around the corner to arrest him six days after his alleged victim vanished. 

They have been described by friends as a ‘very doting couple’ with two children who met online around 12 years ago. 

Officers from the Metropolitan Police laid flowers at the gates of the disused golf course and sports centre close to the woodland where remains feared to be Sarah's have been found

Officers from the Metropolitan Police laid flowers at the gates of the disused golf course and sports centre close to the woodland where remains feared to be Sarah’s have been found

An aerial view of the Couzens' garden today complete with a pool apparently covered over by investigators

An aerial view of the Couzens’ garden today complete with a pool apparently covered over by investigators

Sarah's boyfriend Josh Lowth, 33

Missing People have urged anyone that knows anything to help

Josh Lowth, 33, is the boyfriend of missing Sarah Everard, the woman seen walking between Clapham Junction and Brixton. The couple spoke for around 15 minutes on the phone before Sarah’s disappearance

Police had swooped over something they saw on CCTV on a London bus that passed Sarah as she walked towards Brixton, according to the Daily Telegraph, who said he was working in the hours before his arrest.

A car linked to Couzens – thought to be a hire vehicle – was reportedly picked up on a motorist’s dashcam near to the spot where Sarah disappeared last Wednesday. 

One source told MailOnline: ‘If they identified his car from the bus, they will have been able to see him driving all the way home on London and Highways England’s network of cameras.

‘If she was in the car, they will have footage of him with her’. 

Detectives also probe whether the suspect used his warrant card to lure her into his car after leaving work guarding the nearby US Embassy, it has emerged.    

Scotland Yard are also said to be investigating whether Couzens, 48, used the current Covid-19 lockdown rules to stop the missing woman as she walked home to Brixton from her friend’s home in Clapham, south-west London on the evening of March 3. 

Anyone who has seen Sarah or who has information that may assist the investigation should call the Incident Room on 0208 785 8244.

Information can also be provided to detectives using the Major Incident Portal or by calling Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.

Organisers of Sarah Everard vigil take fight to High Court after police banned their ‘Reclaim These Streets’ event on Clapham Common tomorrow due to Covid – despite mass BLM marches in London during lockdown

Organisers of a vigil in response to the disappearance of Sarah Everard are taking legal action today after claiming police reversed a decision on allowing it to go ahead.

They said there had been an ‘about-face’ by the Metropolitan Police and they were told Saturday’s Reclaim These Streets event would not be permitted due to the coronavirus lockdown.

The group said in a statement last night that they would seek an order in the High Court on Friday, challenging the force’s interpretations of Covid-19 restrictions when read against human rights law.

Scotland Yard said it understands the ‘public’s strength of feeling’ and that the Met remains in discussion with organisers ‘in light of the current Covid regulations’.

The vigil was planned for Saturday in memory of marketing executive Sarah Everard, who disappeared while walking home to Brixton on March 3

The vigil was planned for Saturday in memory of marketing executive Sarah Everard, who disappeared while walking home to Brixton on March 3

Organisers of a gathering in memory of Sarah Everard have claimed the Metropolitan Police have 'reversed their position' on permitting the vigil to take place

Organisers of a gathering in memory of Sarah Everard have claimed the Metropolitan Police have ‘reversed their position’ on permitting the vigil to take place

Last October, large crowds of anti-lockdown protesters gathered in London, calling for an end to the ‘tyranny’ of pandemic restrictions before many were later charged with flouting coronavirus rules.

Protesters refused to wear masks and wielded signs demanding an end to restrictions on personal freedom imposed as part of efforts to control Covid-19.

And during the lockdown last June, tens of thousands of protesters joined forces and marched through the Capital, amid the Black Lives Matter movement.  

The vigil, due to take place at Clapham Common bandstand in south London, was organised after 33-year-old Ms Everard’s suspected kidnap and murder sparked anger over the safety of women on the UK’s streets.

Lawyers for the ‘Reclaim These Streets’ group have today challenged the Met’s interpretation of Covid-19 legislation when read together with the Human Rights Act.  

Organisers are set to go to the High Court later today to challenge the decision not to allow the vigil to go ahead because of Covid laws.  

One of the organisers, Anna Birley, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that organisation for the vigil began on Wednesday and the group had ‘proactively’ contacted Lambeth Council and the Metropolitan Police. 

Ms Birley organisation for the vigil began on Wednesday evening, adding: ‘It’s been a whirlwind 48 hours. We proactively wrote to the police and the local council.

‘Initially, we had feedback that they were looking at ways to navigate this, that they would be looking at how they could proportionately and appropriately provide community policing to the event.

‘And we were in conversation about how we could do that safely so that people could express their anger and their grief without putting themselves or others at risk.

‘We then had an about-face mid-afternoon yesterday. We were being put under increasing pressure that individually, we would be at risk for doing so, but as would everybody who attended and all of the women across the country potentially who have been organising sister vigils in their own areas.’

Ms Birley said that safety of the vigil had been a ‘priority from the get-go’, adding: ‘It would be ironic to organise a vigil to think about women’s safety in public spaces without also thinking about the health and safety aspects.’  

‘Ever piece of literature that we’ve put out has emphasised social distancing.’

She said that the location of Clapham Common was in-part chosen as it is a ‘wide open space’, while organisers had emphasised wearing masks and the importance of social distancing.

She added: ‘We were trying to be very thoughtful. We had QR codes so that people could do track and trace, and just really trying to work out how we can do this in a really safe way.

‘I think that our right to peacefully assemble is an important one. 

‘And that when people do feel strongly and when groups of people’s rights are under threat because they can’t walk on the street safely…or as we saw last summer, they experience racism…

‘I think that our right to protest and our right to assemble in these contexts is a human right.’

She suggested that they may continue to meet if they do not get permission from the court today.

Under current lockdown rules, police in England can hand out fines of up to £10,000 to those found hosting gatherings of more than 30 people.  

'Reclaim These Streets' last night raised more than £37,000 to pay any potential costs of the High Court appeal

‘Reclaim These Streets’ last night raised more than £37,000 to pay any potential costs of the High Court appeal

In the statement tweeted on Thursday evening, Reclaim These Streets said the group had ‘initially’ received a positive response when it approached Lambeth Council and Scotland Yard while planning and promoting the event.

‘The Metropolitan Police said that they were ‘trying to navigate a way through’ and that they were ‘currently developing a local policing plan’ to allow the vigil to take place and to enable them to ‘develop an appropriate and proportionate local response’ to the event,’ the statement said.

‘Since this statement, the Metropolitan Police have reversed their position and stated that the vigil would be unlawful and that, as organisers, we could face tens of thousands of pounds in fines and criminal prosecution under the Serious Crimes Act.’

The group said by ‘forcing us to cancel’ the vigil, the police would be ‘silencing thousands of women like us who want to honour Sarah’s memory and stand up for our right to feel safe on our streets’.

A Metropolitan Police statement said: ‘We understand the public’s strength of feeling and are aware of the statement issued by Reclaim These Streets with regard to a planned vigil for Sarah Everard in Clapham Common this weekend.

‘We remain in discussion with the organisers about this event in light of the current Covid regulations.’

A Metropolitan Police van and a private ambulance at the scene of the woods near Ashford in Kent

A Metropolitan Police van and a private ambulance at the scene of the woods near Ashford in Kent

Police search woodland in Ashford near Kent (pictured) where human remains were found on Wednesday night

Police search woodland in Ashford near Kent (pictured) where human remains were found on Wednesday night

Harriet Harman, MP for Camberwell and Peckham, has written to the Metropolitan Police in support of the protest and plans to attend the gathering in Clapham Common on Saturday. 

She said: ‘Parliament has not specifically acted to constrain the right to demonstrate, so long as social distancing is observed this vigil will be perfectly lawful.’

Senior Conservative MP Caroline Nokes has also asked Home Secretary Priti Patel to step in and allow a vigil over the disappearance of Sarah Everard to go ahead.

The chair of the Commons Women and Equalities Committee said: ‘I have asked Priti to step in and enable it to happen.

‘The organisers of the vigil appear to have mixed messages from the Met.

‘The Home Secretary can send a very clear message that at this awful time, when women want to express their sorrow at the tragic death of Sarah Everard, want to show their determination not to be intimidated by male violence against women and their solidarity with each other, they should be allowed to do so in a safe and socially distanced way.’

Promotional images for the march clearly ask those who attend the gathering to adhere to social distancing rules and to wear masks.

‘Reclaim These Streets’ last night raised more than £37,000 to pay any potential costs of the High Court appeal.  

MailOnline has contacted the Metropolitan Police for further comment. 

How safe do YOU feel at night? The tragic case of Sarah Everard has provoked an avalanche of accounts from women who’ve been harassed or assaulted. A shaming day for all men? Seven female writers share their views

The tragic tale of Sarah Everard has haunted the nation this week. As a serving police officer was arrested following the disappearance of the 33-year-old as she walked home at 9pm last week — and news broke that human remains had been discovered — social media was flooded with accounts of the fear, abuse, harassment and violence that women experience daily. 

The police officer, it should be said, is still only a suspect, has not been charged with any offence, and remains innocent until proven guilty.

That said, why is it that women still feel unsafe on Britain’s streets? And are they right to do so? Here a selection of writers give their views…

It could be any man at any time — it’s terrifying 

Flora Gill, 30

Flora Gill, 30

Flora Gill, 30

The first time I was harassed in the streets, I was 11 and walking back from school in the middle of the day; a man chased me and started taking photos up my skirt.

When I was 14, walking through a park in the morning, I was jeered at and pushed between a group of boys.

At 16, I was followed back from a party at night as a man chased me, laughing.

At 21, while travelling, I was groped in a crowd while my partner walked unaware beside me.

These are not the only instances, or even the most serious. The point is they all happened at different ages, at different times of the day, while I was wearing different types of clothes.

As women, there are so many things we do to try to minimise our risk. We don’t jog at night, we avoid the top floor of the night bus, we check the back seats of our cars, we walk with our keys in our hands, ready to deploy as weapons if necessary.

It’s the same set of rules Sarah Everard appears to have had in mind. She took a well-lit route, she called her partner, she wore bright colours and it still was not enough.

So when people ask ‘What could you have done differently?’ the answer is: nothing. 

Whether you’re a schoolgirl walking home in your uniform, or a 33-year-old in ‘sensible’ clothes, you are never without ‘risk’.

It’s not all men, but it feels as if it could be any man, at any time, no matter our precautions; and that is a terrifying world to live in.

I was assaulted — but I refuse to be cowed by fear

Julia Lawrence, 53

Julia Lawrence, 53

Julia Lawrence, 53

The ‘incident’, as it was referred to in my police report, happened on a hot summer’s night in 2019. 

It should have changed my attitude towards my personal safety and, indeed, that of my 24-year-old daughter — but I wouldn’t let that happen.

I was walking home from a friend’s house, a mile-long stroll along a busy road in North London, at about 11pm when I became aware of someone following me.

I slowed down, he slowed down. I sped up, he sped up. So I ducked inside a restaurant. When I emerged ten minutes later, he’d waited for me. 

In blind terror, I tried to sprint away — me, a middle-aged woman, a little bit tipsy, wearing strappy sandals, trying to outrun a 6 ft tall young man in trainers.

Obviously, he caught me. What happened next was truly bizarre: he just grinned and grabbed my bum, then ran off.

I have never been so scared in my life. To the police’s credit, they took it very seriously. I attended an identity parade where I failed to pick out my attacker, but they got him anyway: a local ‘character’ who had learning difficulties and was targeting women.

My family and friends begged me to be more careful, not to walk alone at night, but angrily I refused. Why should I? I will not moderate what I see as perfectly reasonable behaviour in response to the unreasonable, and extremely rare, habits of others. Would I walk home along a country road, blind drunk, miles from anywhere? No, because that would increase my chances of running into danger, most likely from a speeding car.

But strolling home on a warm summer’s evening in a busy area is a privilege I am not prepared to forsake over a threat which I see as minimal. I was simply unlucky.

Women have fought too hard, for too long, for freedom to relinquish it that easily.

Harassment of women is worse today due to porn

Tanith Carey, 53

Tanith Carey, 53

Tanith Carey, 53

As I walked arm-in-arm with my 15-year-old daughter up our local High Street last week, I vaguely noticed a respectably dressed, middle-aged man in a mask queueing to get into Marks & Spencer.

I thought little of it until Clio said a few seconds later: ‘That guy just made a weird gesture at me.’

Confused, she described how, while staring directly into her eyes, he had lowered his hands, palms-down, from his chest to his crotch, as though pushing something down.

As it dawned on me what this meant, I felt nauseated. Right in front of me, this stranger had felt emboldened enough to indicate to my child that he’d like to force her to perform oral sex on him.

This is not an isolated experience for my daughter, just as it wasn’t for me at her age. 

But you might have thought that, in the intervening decades since I was a teenager, the huge strides we have made towards equality, as well as campaigns such as #Me Too and Everyday Sexism, would have meant this kind of harassment was dying out.

On the contrary — it’s actually got a lot worse.

For ten years, I’ve been writing about the effect instantly available internet porn has been having on our society.

I’ve charted how the explosion of clips delighting in sexual violence have encouraged some men to see all females as objects to be degraded for their sexual pleasure.

Even if staged, violent porn encourages viewers to be turned on by violence and the subjugation of women. Until we find the courage to tackle these portrayals, women will never be safe.

I have no faith in our justice system

Lindsay Nicholson, 65

Lindsay Nicholson, 65

Lindsay Nicholson, 65

My best friend lives only a mile from my house. Easy walking distance. But when we get together (outside of lockdown, of course) I never, ever walk home after an evening spent with her. The path is unlit and runs alongside a golf course, which is deserted at night.

What woman in her right mind would do that? I take my car, or, if we have shared a bottle of wine, her husband drives me home.

Like all women, I decide where I go, what I wear and how I travel based on personal safety.

This is not paranoia. Like most women I have been followed, harassed, catcalled and even flashed at more times than I care to count. My daughter, who is 28, and my mother in her 80s, have both had similar experiences.

We text one another the registration of any minicab we use and check in after every journey.

Nor do we have any faith in the police or the justice system to protect us. A family friend was followed home by a stranger who forced his way into her flat and brutally raped her.

He was caught and prosecuted, but walked away from court scot-free. The defence argued that sex had been consensual and seemingly the jury believed him. Our friend says her experience at the hands of the so-called justice system was even worse than the rape. Who would put themselves through that?

Black boys are most at risk on the streets 

Emily Hill, 37

Emily Hill, 37

Emily Hill, 37

‘There but for the grace of God, go I,’ is what any woman empathising with Sarah Everard must be thinking.

But please forgive me for disputing the idea that a curfew should be imposed on men because otherwise a woman’s day would effectively end at sundown.

I feel so sorry for Sarah and her family, but I am uncomfortable about wholesale conclusions about men and women being drawn from her disappearance. In my experience of London, it is not true that the streets aren’t safe for women. They are — as long as you don’t meet a murderer. The vast majority of us won’t.

I’m 5ft tall and weigh less than 7st, but have never been accosted or harassed by a man on the street. But I was hurt once when a woman tried to mug me in broad daylight.

Every year for the past six years, there have been 100 homicides in London. The streets here aren’t safe, it’s true — but for working-class, mostly black boys. Too many women have died, too, but as a result of domestic abuse, not going out after dark.

We shouldn’t have to dread walking home on our own 

Radhika Sanghani

Radhika Sanghani

Radhika Sanghani, 30

The first time I learned to fear walking home alone was after a talk we had on safety at my all-girls’ primary school. I was 11 years old.

We were told to avoid ponytails (easy to grab), not to wear headphones, make sure we wore shoes we could run in and hold our keys. Over the years, those messages have become part of my life.

The first time I experienced harassment was not long after that safety talk. A van driver catcalled me when I was crossing the road in my school summer dress, humiliating me so much I tripped up and walked away feeling like I had done something dirty. Then there was the time I was celebrating the end of my A-levels, when a man took advantage of a packed nightclub to slip his hands into my underwear.

Yet every single time I’ve been harassed — these are just a few of many incidents — I have felt guilty afterwards. I blamed myself for ‘not being conscientious enough’, for ‘putting myself at risk’.

Now, finally, seeing the reaction of so many women to Sarah Everard’s story, it is making me think twice. Why should women grow up fearing walking home alone? Why do we accept that we have to do so much to stay safe when most men don’t even have to think about it?

I’ve always felt it’s naive to want to live in a world where women don’t have to ‘Stay safe! Get a cab! Be careful!’ But now I’m changing my mind. It’s long overdue.

Women should be safe— whatever we wear

Julie Bindel, 58

Julie Bindel, 58

Julie Bindel, 58

Safe? I will only feel safe when men stop assaulting, raping and killing women. When there are serious consequences for men who commit acts of violence against women. Until then, any attempt to reassure women we are safe, because few are ever snatched from the street as they were in the days of the Yorkshire Ripper, will fall on deaf ears.

So long as the conviction rate for rape and sexual assault is as low as 1 per cent of offences reported to police, men will believe they can act with impunity. When judges treat men accused of killing their wives with sympathy because she ‘nagged’ him, then we will continue to fear fatal male violence. What needs to happen before women are truly safe is to point the finger at violent men rather than focus only on the victims.

We need to make it clear abuse of females is unacceptable and carries stiff penalties.

But we can do this only if the criminal justice system starts locking up more rapists and batterers.

Why should women curtail our behaviour because we fear being sexually assaulted when we go about our business? It should be safe to take a taxi alone, even if we’ve had a few drinks, and no matter what we are wearing. Rather than giving women advice about how to dress or behave, we should be telling men ‘enough is enough’.

And one man’s view: I just hadn’t realised how bad things were

Stephen Pollard, 56

Stephen Pollard

Stephen Pollard

Some crimes shake the nation. They remain in our consciousness for decades — such as the murder of James Bulger — because they illustrate something that plays into our worst fears. It feels, tragically, that Sarah Everard’s disappearance is one such case.

Since a man was arrested on suspicion of her kidnap and murder this week, there has been an outpouring from women on social media and elsewhere. They have all made the same point: that for women, fear of attack is a day-to-day norm.

If I’m walking at night in a quiet street and I see a woman in front of me, I cross the road, conscious that she cannot know my intentions.

But I don’t think I appreciated until now just how unrelenting and constant the concern is that women feel when they are out alone at night. Some men have reacted by remarking that not all men are rapists. I’ve rarely heard a more fatuous comment. Of course we aren’t. But to the woman near us, who doesn’t know us, every one of us is a potential attacker.

I’ve been attacked twice: once in the street at night and once in a busy Tube station. So I also look about me when I’m out, and if I spot someone behind me I’ll often cross the road to see if I am being followed.

But for a man, the fear is very different — the fear of a mugging is not the same as the fear of sexual assault.It shouldn’t need to be said that women have the right to walk down a street without fear. But if that right is to be honoured, men need to change their behaviour. We have to put the fears of women at the front of our minds when we are out.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk