Patsy Stevenson has warned the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in a pre-action letter, that she intends to initiate legal proceedings against the Metropolitan Police force should they not withdraw a Fixed Penalty Notice issued to her following her arrest at the Clapham Common Vigil for Sarah Everard on Saturday 13 March 2021. Images of Patsy, a 28 year old student, being handcuffed and pinned to the ground by two male Metropolitan Police officers at the vigil sparked widespread anger and criticism over how the vigil was policed.
The pre-action letter, sent by Bindmans LLP, also challenges the lawfulness of the policing operation deployed at the vigil, as well as Patsy Stevenson’s arrest, detention and ill-treatment.
Patsy Stevenson received a letter from ACRO Criminal Records Office, dated 19 April 2021, which explained that an officer of the Metropolitan Police Service had decided to issue her with an FPN in the sum of £200, on the basis that she was ‘present at a large scale gathering’ on Clapham Common on 13 March 2021.
Under the Coronavirus Regulations a person commits an offence if, ‘without reasonable excuse’, the person contravenes a restriction or requirement imposed under the Regulations (regulation 10(1)). The phrase, ‘reasonable excuse,’ in the public health context, is ‘largely, if not entirely, a question of fact’ (Morris v Beardmore  AC 446 at 461).The phrase can include the exercise of rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (Convention), such as the rights under Article 10 and 11 of the Convention (the freedom of expression and the freedom of assembly and association).
On 17 March 2021, the Joint Committee on Human Rights published its report on ‘The Government response to Covid-19: freedom of assembly and the right to protest’. The report stated, at §48, that ‘going on a protest, if conducted in a manner that minimises the risk of spreading Covid-19, could have been and could remain a lawful reason to leave the home during lockdown.’ At §56, the Committee noted the following evidence from a senior police officer:
Significantly, the senior police officers who gave oral evidence to our Committee also appeared to agree that protest was not prohibited under lockdown. In answer to the question: “can we assume that your understanding of the law is that there is no absolute prohibition on the right to protest, and that it still exists, notwithstanding the terms the regulations made under the Public Health Act?”, Chief Constable Harrington [Public Order & Public Safety lead at the National Police Chiefs Council] said: “Absolutely.”
It is argued by Patsy Stevenson’s legal representatives that the Fixed Penalty Notice administered was the consequence of an unlawful policing operation whereby a number of attendees at the vigil were subjected to excessive force and unnecessary arrests. This was a policing operation which breached Patsy Stevenson’s Article 10 and 11 ECHR rights as protected by s6 Human Rights Act 1998.
Patsy Stevenson comments:
The vigil for Sarah Everard was an important space for women to collectively grieve. Many women, myself included, felt deeply impacted by the murder of Sarah Everard, perhaps because so many of us have experienced sexual harassment and feeling unsafe in public spaces. I drew strength from the number of women who had come together in solidarity. This should have been a safe space for us to freely express ourselves.
I am angry that the police shut down our space to mourn and comfort each other and I feel violated that male officers used physical force to do so.
I will not be silenced by such actions and I am prepared to robustly challenge the police for their conduct on that day until there has been an acknowledgment and apology for their wrongdoing.
Sisters Uncut comments:
Women gathered at Clapham Common on 13 March to mourn and protest the murder of Sarah Everard, who was allegedly killed by a then serving Metropolitan Police officer. After nightfall a number of women who gathered to mourn were violently assaulted and arrested by the Metropolitan Police.
Channel 4 recently exposed the fact ‘one woman every week is coming forward to report their partner in the police is seriously abusing them or their children’ and that the police are less likely to be convicted of domestic abuse related charges than the general public.
This, the violence women experienced at Clapham Common and the fact that Sarah Everard’s alleged killer was allowed to continue his duties as a firearms officer despite being reported for exposing himself several days before allegedly killing Sarah, makes it impossible for women to implicitly trust that the police are there to protect us. It is the treatment of survivors who have reported rape and domestic violence, the policing of women at this vigil, together with the conduct of undercover police officers, which all point to systemic failures and long term institutional sexism.
Rachel Harger, solicitor at Bindmans LLP who is representing Patsy Stevenson, comments:
The decision to opt for a heavy police presence at this vigil was rooted in the Metropolitan Police maintaining a position, wrong in law, that participation in the vigil was a criminal act under the Coronavirus Regulations. However it was also seriously ill-advised and entirely unnecessary to deploy so many officers into a space where women had gathered to mourn.
The decision by officers to then move to heavy-handed physical enforcement of the Coronavirus Regulations in order to arbitrarily arrest Patsy, seemingly just so officers could obtain her personal details to issue her with a Fixed Penalty Notice, showed utter contempt for her rights to privacy, freedom of expression and freedom to assemble and associate.
At the very least, the Metropolitan Police must provide a full and meaningful apology for this disastrous policing operation and the manhandling of women who had gathered only to express their collective anger and grief.
Patsy Stevenson is represented by Rachel Harger of Bindmans LLP, along with Pippa Woodrow and Jude Bunting of Doughty Street Chambers.