Police in London have clashed with crowds after more than 1000 people gathered to mark the killing of Sarah Everard, hours after the police officer charged with her murder appeared in court.
Ms Everard’s disappearance as she walked home in south London on the night of March 3 had led to a wave of accounts from women about the dangers of walking streets alone at night, and dismay at the failure of the police and wider society to tackle the issue.
Early on Saturday, an impromptu memorial with flowers and candles sprang up around a bandstand on Clapham Common in south-west London, near where Ms Everard, 33, was last seen alive.
Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, was among those who paid their respects. A palace official said the duchess “remembers what it was like to walk around London at night before she was married”.
By late Saturday, about 1000 people – mostly women – had gathered at the site to pay their respects and protest at the dangers they felt when out alone. Some chanted “shame on you” at police.
Campaign groups had wanted to organise a formal vigil, but London’s Metropolitan Police said people should not gather due to coronavirus restrictions.
The head of the force, Cressida Dick, said any vigil “would be unlawful and would be unsafe”.
As tensions mounted, witnesses saw police drag several women away from the gathering.
Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Helen Ball said four people were arrested for public order offences and breaches of health regulations.
“We absolutely did not want to be in a position where enforcement action was necessary,” Ball said in a statement.
“But we were placed in this position because of the overriding need to protect people’s safety.”
London Mayor Sadiq Khan – who is responsible for policing in the city – said the officers’ response “was at times neither appropriate or proportionate” and added he was seeking an urgent explanation from Ms Dick.
The leader of the opposition Labour Party, Keir Starmer, called the scenes “deeply disturbing”, while Conservative Home Secretary Priti Patel said she too wanted answers from police about “upsetting” images.
Earlier on Saturday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he and his partner Carrie Symonds would light a candle in memory of Ms Everard.
“I will do everything I can to make sure the streets are safe and ensure women and girls do not face harassment or abuse,” he said.
Appearing at London’s Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Saturday morning, 48-year-old police officer Wayne Couzens spoke only to confirm his identity.
Mr Couzens’s lawyer did not enter a plea to the charges of kidnap and murder ahead of a fuller court hearing scheduled for Tuesday. Mr Couzens remains in custody.
Police discovered Ms Everard’s body on Wednesday in woodland about 80 kilometres south-east of London. The court heard that her body was found in a builder’s refuse bag, and was identified using dental records.
Mr Couzens joined the Metropolitan Police in 2018 and guarded foreign embassies before his arrest.
England’s police watchdog has launched an investigation into the Metropolitan Police’s handling of the case.