Priti Patel defends police professionalism after clashes at Sarah Everard vigil

Priti Patel defended police professionalism (Picture: PA)

Home Secretary Priti Patel has defended the UK’s police, saying the government backs them and that they had acted with ‘professionalism’ in enforcing Covid regulations over the past year.

It comes after the Metropolitan Police were criticised for their handling of a vigil in south London in memory of Sarah Everard on Saturday night.

Ms Patel said addressed this, saying: ‘I have already said that some of the footage circulating online of Clapham Common is upsetting.

‘So whilst the police are rightfully operationally independent, I asked the Metropolitan Police for a report into what had happened.

‘This Government backs our police in fighting crime and keeping the public safe, but in the interest of providing greater assurance and ensuring public confidence, I have asked Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to conduct a full, independent lessons learned review.

‘The Metropolitan Police Commissioner has welcomed this and I will await the report and of course update the House in due course.’

Speaking in the House of Commons today, she said she understood public concern and anger, saying of Sarah: ‘My heartache and that of others can be summed up in just five words – she was just walking home.’

But she urged people to continue to follow coronavirus regulations and not to gather for protests.

She told MPs: ‘Over the past year during the coronavirus pandemic, the police have been faced with an unenviable and immediately difficult task.

‘It is one for the most part that they have approached with skill and professionalism, helping to enforce regulations as determined by Parliament with one crucial objective in mind, to save lives.

‘This House approved those changes by 524 votes to 16 on January 6 this year. Sadly, as of Sunday March 14, more than 125,500 lives have been lost to this horrible virus.

‘It is for that reason that I continue to urge everyone for as long as these regulations are in place not to participate in large gatherings or attend protests.

‘The right to protest is the cornerstone of our democracy, but the Government’s duty remains to prevent more lives being lost during this pandemic.’

People attend a vigil by a band stand in Clapham Common, London

The government is seeking to pass new legislation that will give police greater powers to crack down on disruptive protests.

Labour has said it will vote against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill because it contains ‘poorly thought-out measures to impose disproportionate controls on free expression’.

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said ‘things clearly went very wrong’ in Clapham on Saturday.

Mr Thomas-Symonds told the Commons: ‘Let me be clear, it is not women who should change their behaviour, it is men and wider society that needs to change.

‘And at times like this it is vital people are able to have their voices heard, of course in a way that is lawful and Covid-secure. Yet this weekend in Clapham things clearly went very wrong and I share the anger about the policing and the scenes we saw.’

He continued: ‘Can the Home Secretary also publish the minutes at the advanced meeting that was held on Friday mentioned by the policing minister on the media this morning?

‘And can she confirm what communication she personally had with the Metropolitan Police prior to the events on Saturday?’

Responding, Priti Patel said she was ‘sorry to hear the tone’ of the shadow home secretary.

She told the Commons: ‘I would like to emphasise that this Government is committed when it comes to violence against women and girls at the highest level.’

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