Today, the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) has finally settled civil claims brought by Patsy Stevenson and Dania Al-Obeid arising from their policing of the Clapham Common vigil for Sarah Everard.
Together with making payments of substantial damages to Dania Al-Obeid and Patsy Stevenson, the MPS has issued an apology.
The MPS acknowledge that women wanted to attend the vigil because they were ‘understandably’ feeling ‘badly let down by the Met’, that the purpose of the vigil was to facilitate public expression of grief and anger, and that people’s presence at it was protected by the fundamental right to protest.
The MPS has expressed regret that Patsy and Dania’s opportunity to express grief and anger was ‘curtailed by [their] arrest and removal’ and that these legal proceedings have been necessary.
These settlements follow the damning findings of the Baroness Casey Review into the standards of behaviour and internal culture of the MPS, which have now been accepted by the Met Commissioner.
Scathing comments made in the review included criticism of the policing of the vigil:
‘When the Vigil inevitably went ahead and video footage of Met officers holding down and arresting women at the Vigil quickly went viral across social media, led to widespread condemnation and accusations that the Met were ‘heavy-handed’ and ‘tone-deaf’ in their policing of the Vigil.
After the Vigil took place, the Met continued to defend their view that they were right. This included continuing to pursue those issued with Fixed Penalty Notices at the Vigil. They continually appealed the decision of the High Court that found that it was unlawful for them to have not facilitated the original Vigil, despite a judge calling their claim ‘hopeless.’
An organisation charged with the safety of women and girls might have paused to consider how they should respond to the strength of feeling given that the murderer was a serving police officer…. under that pressure, Met culture seemed to drive the organisation’s decision making, with characteristic defensiveness, internal focus and lack of humility.
The Met failed to recognise the significance of the murder of Sarah Everard, why there was such anger and grief and their own role within that. Their own abhorrence of Sarah Everard’s murder did not extend to a recognition of how badly let down women in London felt by the Met itself, nor the importance of allowing people to express their grief and anger about this. This tendency to focus inwards, on their own feelings and their own officers and not see or accept things from other perspectives is a recurring feature of Met culture….
The events around the Vigil illustrate how far culture in the Met had become removed from the founding principles of policing by consent. It took the view that strict compliance with regulations overrides all circumstances even where the law itself allows exceptions and every police officer has discretion around the enforcement of the law. The inability to look at things from other perspectives even in these shocking circumstances are further examples of their lack of humility.’
Responding to the apology on behalf of both women, Bindmans LLP has requested that the MPS explain in writing the ‘extensive work being undertaken across the Met to address issues and wider concerns about failings to adequately tackle violence against women and girls’ that they have referred to in their apology, by setting out what practical steps the MPS has taken in response to the Casey Review. Bindmans has also asked whether these have been reviewed or developed in light of more recent examples of MPS officers being convicted for violence offences against women. A response is still awaited.
Patsy Stevenson comments:
It has taken over two years to reach this conclusion, it’s been a really tiring and difficult process but it has felt important to push for some form of accountability and justice for myself and all women who attended the vigil to express our anger and grief over the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Metropolitan Police officer.
I’m glad that the police have recognised that we had a fundamental right to protest but since then this right has been further eroded and undermined by the Public Order Act. It is our politicians who have rewarded the Met with greater police powers despite the murder of Sarah Everard and the policing of the vigil, which has exposed deeply embedded misogyny within the Met Police internationally.
I’m relieved this chapter is over but I will continue to stand in solidarity with all those fighting for truth, justice and accountability arising from racist, misogynistic or homophobic policing.
Dania Al-Obeid comments:
I have found this journey incredibly difficult but very important as a survivor of domestic violence and someone who has been failed by the police in that context. I have felt empowered holding the police to account for how they have treated me and other women who attended the vigil, I really feel I have found my voice through this process and I finally feel heard. I appreciate that the Met Police have acknowledged our motivations for attending it but ‘badly let down’ is an understatement. I have felt abused, abandoned by the police prior to, during and post the vigil – I do not feel protected or safe with any police force.
It is really important to me that the Met Police properly explain without any further delay what practical steps have been taken in response to the Casey Review and what resources they are going to use to support survivors of domestic and sexual violence.
Ultimately my experiences with the police tell me that they are just not the right organisation or institution that should be the frontline response to women who have experienced domestic or sexual violence. I think we need to re-imagine and re-create another organisation to do this work but whilst this remains within the remit of the Met Police it is really important that they accept scrutiny of their practices and culture which impacts their ability to keep women safe. I will continue to support all survivors in their efforts to hold the police accountable for failing to keep them safe.
Rachel Harger, solicitor at Bindmans LLP representing Ms Stevenson and Ms Al-Obeid, comments:
I am glad that the Met have finally acknowledged that those who attended the vigil had the fundamental right to protest the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met officer. Protests are as vital as they have ever been, without them, injustices will be unchallenged and people will lose confidence in democratic processes by which things can change. Patsy and Dania have demonstrated that we protect the right to protest by protesting.
They have both overcome significant adversities in their attempts to hold the Met Police accountable, and in full public view. I hope other women, particularly survivors of physical and sexual violence, will feel strengthened in their efforts to do the same.
Patsy Stevenson and Danial Al-Obeid are represented by Rachel Harger of Bindmans LLP along with Jude Bunting KC and Pippa Woodrow of Doughty Street Chambers.