An MP has taken a wait and see attitude in the furore over the Clapham Common disturbances.
The Metropolitan Police were widely condemned for their handling of the mass vigil for murder victim Sarah Everard in London on Saturday.
It led to arrests and several scuffles and anger at the force from members of the three main political parties and women’s groups.
Conservative and North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale stressed that the gathering was unlawful under the present Covid lockdown rules.
But he wanted to wait for the outcome of a resulting inquiry into the disturbances before making a full judgement.
He said: “In the context of the gathering – which was of course itself unlawful – I think that it might be helpful if we were all to await the outcome of the inquiry that the Home Secretary has ordered before leaping to conclusions.
“I accept entirely the strength of public feeling in relation to this matter and to the appalling crime that precipitated the event.
Sir Roger Gale talking about the vigil
“But while some aspects of the policing of this demonstration, undertaken to enforce Covid-19 regulations in the public interest, give cause for concern.
“I believe that it would be wise to be guided by the official report of the investigation, rather than upon selective reporting, for a definitive assessment of what actually took place and of what measures may, as a result, need to be taken.”
But he said he would this week vote for the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which would affect public gatherings.
The Duchess of Cambridge visited the site earlier in the day to pay her respects.
Dover MP Natailie Elphicke said today: “Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, along with hundreds of other people, showed that it was perfectly possible to make their condolences with respect and express their concern about this important issue while staying on the right side of the COVID public health restrictions.
“I share the concerns expressed by the Duchess and extend my heartfelt sympathy to Sarah’s family on the loss of their daughter.
“The High Court had refused permission for a mass protest due to the public health situation, so it was a great shame that matters escalated as they did. It is quite right that the Metropolitan Police should have to account for their actions.”
Folkestone and Hythe MP Damian Collins openly condemned the Met in a tweet yesterday.
He wrote: “Appalling scenes in Clapham last night of aggressive police action at the vigil for Sarah Everard and a justificatory statement from the Met using the language of the abuser to its victims over the years – it’s your fault, you made us do it.”
Assistant Commissioner Helen Ball had said: “We absolutely did not want to be in a position where enforcement action was necessary.
“But we were placed in this position because of the overriding need to protect people’s safety.”
On the night itself South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay had tweeted: “This is not right. Is this really what Covid rules and restrictions have brought us to with heavy police response?
“We are a free country. People came together to remember a life senselessly and cruelly taken.”
The investigation into the murder came to his constituency yesterday, in Sandwich, when Met officers arrived to search for more clues.
Tom Tugendhat, MP for Tonbridge, Edenbridge and Malling, said on Saturday: “Today’s protests were legitimate expressions of outrage about violence against women by free citizens in a free country. The powers used against them echoed something different. We have been vaccinating to liberate and to use judgment at just such a moment.”
Officers have been accused of “grabbing and manhandling” women during clashes with the crowd.
Scuffles broke out at the front of a crowd of hundreds as police surrounded a bandstand covered in floral tributes to Sarah, the 33-year-old, whose body was discovered in Ashford on Wednesday.
Four people were arrested for public order and coronavirus regulation breaches.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “Some of the footage circulating online from the vigil in Clapham is upsetting. I have asked the Metropolitan Police for a full report on what happened.”
Met Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick defied calls to resign and was backed by policing minister Kit Malthouse.
He said: “Throughout this pandemic, we have asked them to do a job that they have never done before and to stand between the public, if you like, and this terrible virus, in a way that none of us are used to, and certainly they aren’t as well.”
Covid-19 has gripped the UK for a year and the death toll, since the first fatality on January 30, 2020, stood at 125,516 yesterday.
Sarah Everard had vanished on the night of March 3 as she walked home to Brixton after visiting a friend in Clapham, walking through the common.
Her body was found near Great Chart, Ashford, seven days later.
PC Wayne Couzens, 48, a Metropolitan Police armed diplomatic protection officer, was arrested at his home in Freemen’s Way in Deal on March 9.
He has since been charged with kidnap and murder and is now in custody and due to appear at the Old Bailey tomorrow.
Over the last week Metropolitan Police officers have swarmed into Kent as part of the investigation and also searched Couzens’ former workplace, the BCB garage in Dover.
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