Updated Mar 14, 2021 - World

U.K. police criticized for response to vigil for slain Sarah Everard

A placard rests amid candles on a bench as mourners hold a vigil for the life of murdered 33-year-old Sarah Everard
A makeshift memorial on a bench during a London vigil for Sarah Everard in the United Kingdom. Photo: David Cliff/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The suspected abduction and murder of a 33-year-old London woman has spurred a cascade of concern over women's safety and an outpouring of grief from the British public.

The latest: Thousands of people gathered at south London's Clapham Common Saturday for a vigil for Sarah Everard, which police called unlawful. Home Secretary Priti Patel tweeted that she's asked for a "full report" from police after seeing "upsetting" images taken as officers made arrests.

  • London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he's "urgently seeking an explanation" from the Metropolitan Police commissioner, amid accusations that male officers were "grabbing and manhandling" women during arrests, per the Evening Standard.
  • "The police have a responsibility to enforce Covid laws but from images I've seen it's clear the response was at times neither appropriate nor proportionate," added Khan, who along with Patel oversees London's police force.

Of note: Wayne Couzens, a London police officer, made his first appearance in court on Saturday morning following his Tuesday arrest for the suspected abduction and murder of Everard, who disappeared on March 3, according to the Metropolitan Police. He was charged Friday.

  • Police confirmed that a body found hidden southeast of the capital was Everand's, and have said the investigation remains ongoing.

What they're saying: Assistant Commissioner Helen Ball said in a statement that police arrested four people during Saturday evening's vigil for public order offenses and for "breaches of the Health Protection Regulations."

  • She said police "absolutely did not want to be in a position where enforcement action was necessary" and that they acted out of safety concerns.

The big picture: Everard's death has "dismayed Britain and revived a painful question: Why are women too often not safe on the streets?" AP notes. Her fate is "all the more shocking" because the suspect charged Friday over her death is an officer "whose job was protecting politicians and diplomats," AP added.

  • Her killing has sparked outcry across the U.K. and beyond, with women and girls sharing their experiences and fears about personal safety on social media and other mediums.
  • Everard's disappearance has shone a light on "a double standard that exists: Women are expected to adapt their behavior to reduce personal risk, which in turn fuels a 'victim-blaming culture' and detracts attention from male actions," NBC News writes.

For the record: Member of Parliament Jess Phillips this week read the names of 118 women aloud who were murdered last year.

By the numbers: The United Nations in 2019 reported that 71% of women in the U.K. said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment in public, with the number rising to 86% for women between the ages of 18 and 24.

  • Centre of London, a U.K. think-tank, noted in 2019 that "women were nearly twice as likely as men to mention personal safety as a barrier to walking and using public transport."

Editor's note: This article has been updated with comment from Patel, Khan and police.

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