A ruling that the Metropolitan police’s handling of a proposed vigil for Sarah Everard was not in accordance with the law comes after a torrid period for the force.
Dame Cressida Dick was last month forced out of her role as the Met commissioner after the London mayor accused her of failing to deal with a culture of misogyny and racism within Britain’s biggest force.
Sadiq Khan’s confidence in her reached breaking point when a scandal emerged at Charing Cross police station, where officers shared racist, sexist, misogynistic and Islamophobic messages. Two of the officers investigated were promoted, while nine were left to continue serving.
The Met leadership’s handling of the murder of Everard in March 2021 by a serving Met officer also caused consternation in City Hall and government.
After her killer was sentenced to a whole-life term in September 2021, the Met leadership was expected to show it understood those concerns. Instead, it was mocked after saying that women who were worried about an officer approaching them could wave down a bus.
Judges have now ruled that the Met breached the rights of the organisers of a vigil for Everard with its handling of the planned event.
The leaders of the campaign group Reclaim These Streets withdrew from organising the vigil after being told by the force they would face fines of £10,000 each and possible prosecution if the event went ahead.
But in its place, a spontaneous vigil and protest took place that culminated in scenes of women being dragged off by male police officers that caused outrage across the political spectrum.
The ruling is an embarrassment for the government, particularly the home secretary, Priti Patel, who had made it clear to police that a ban on gatherings had to be enforced.
After the ruling, one of the founders of Reclaim These Streets, Jamie Klingler, said that had the Met cooperated with the group, an organised vigil would have involved dozens of stewards who could communicate with the police.
“It would have been a quiet moment of silence and then we would have gone home,” she said.
Klingler said the Met’s approach “lit a match”. She has also warned the Met that any attempt to appeal against the decision would “further erode women’s trust in the force”.
But Scotland Yard has said it is considering an appeal, arguing that the judgment has “potential implications in other circumstances for how a proportionality assessment is to be carried out when considering enforcement action”.
The force said these implications may apply beyond policing the pandemic. Even in the context of regulations that kept people safe during the pandemic, this may have important consequences.
In a statement released after the ruling, the Met quoted the high court judges, adding that it was incumbent on the force to “ensure that this judgment does not unduly inhibit its ability, and that of police forces across the country, to effectively balance competing rights in a way that is operationally deliverable”.
But with such pressure on the force to move on from the terrible damage to its reputation in recent months, it will be paying close attention to the warning issued by Reclaim These Streets that to appeal would be to damage relations with women further.