Anti-Police Signs At Sarah Everard Vigil Were ‘Inappropriate’, Says Priti Patel

Priti Patel has branded people who attended the Sarah Everard vigil in Clapham Common on Saturday night while holding anti-police signs as “inappropriate”.

The home secretary said they would be “subject to some consideration” as the government and police attempt to “learn lessons” from the handling of the event, in which officers were seen grabbing several women and leading them away in handcuffs.

Patel was responding to Tory MP Fay Jones, who claimed the peaceful vigil “turned into a protest with photographs showing ‘ACAB’ signs, which stands for ‘all cops are bastards’”.

The home secretary, who has ordered Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to review the handling of the vigil, replied: “We’ll wait for the report and there is no question that where there is lessons to be learned, they will be learned.

“And of course where individuals were acting inappropriately in the way in which she has said, obviously that will be subject to some consideration too.”

House of Commons/PA Images

Home secretary Priti Patel speaking in the House of Commons, London, in the aftermath of last Saturday’s vigil for murdered Sarah Everard on Clapham Common

But her branding of the sign as “inappropriate” comes amid wider concerns about a government crackdown on protests in the policing, crime and sentencing bill, which Labour is opposing in a vote on Tuesday.

It also came as senior Tory MPs warned that coronavirus restrictions meant the right to protest had been “criminalised”.

Sir Graham Brady, who chairs the powerful 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, raised the alarm over the bill, which includes provisions to crack down on demonstrations if they are too noisy or cause “serious annoyance”, and seeks to toughen the punishment for people who damage statues.

Brady’s intervention suggests that there is disquiet among Tory backbenchers about the legislation’s most draconian measures.

During Patel’s Commons statement on the fallout from the alleged murder of Sarah Everard, Brady said: “[Priti Patel] has rightly said that the right to protest is a cornerstone of our democracy, but as she also said, this House on January 6 voted swingeing powers to control protests for the period of the coronavirus restrictions. 

“Can I ask her to work with concerned members across the House to make sure that the legislation that we’re about to pass protects that right of peaceful protest and only stops serious disruption?”

Charles Walker, vice chair of the 1922, meanwhile voiced concerns about Covid regulations harming people’s democratic rights.

“This House criminalised the freedom of protest, this House, us,” he said. 

“Not Dame Cressida, not the Metropolitan Police, we did. We criminalised the freedom to protest collectively. We are up to our eyeballs in this.

“Does [Ms Patel] agree with me that now is the time to decriminalise freedom of protest, not tomorrow, not next week, but this afternoon, this evening? Let’s get people back on the streets. Let’s allow people to get things off their chest again. Protest is a safety valve.”

Meanwhile, Patel revealed she had been in contact with under-fire Metropolitan Police commissioner Dame Cressida Dick in the run up to Saturday’s event in south London.

The home secretary told MPs: “I had been in touch with the Metropolitan Police commissioner on Friday and throughout the weekend, and we have had extensive discussions in terms of planning, preparation for the vigil at the weekend.

“I should, however, emphasise that on Friday there was legal action underway so until that legal action has been determined and the commissioner and the Metropolitan Police themselves were engaging with the organisers with the vigil, there were various plans the police were working on.

“I will be very clear, though: on Friday my views were known.

“And they were based on the fact that people who wanted to pay tribute within the locality – bear in mind we’re in a pandemic, we cannot forget that – that people who live locally clearly who were either out on a daily basis, passing through, laying flowers is absolutely the right thing to do and we saw many people doing that.”

Patel added the scenes on Saturday evening were “upsetting”, which was why she had asked Dick for a report on the event and HMIC’s review of lessons learned.

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