London’s mayor has publicly rebuked the head of the Metropolitan police, saying he was “not satisfied” by Dame Cressida Dick’s account of why officers clashed with women at a vigil mourning for Sarah Everard and demanding two independent inquiries.
Sadiq Khan said the scenes from Clapham Common on Saturday night were unacceptable after he summoned the Met commissioner and her deputy, Sir Stephen House, to City Hall to explain themselves.
In a statement that left the commissioner’s future in doubt, the Labour mayor said he had asked and received assurances from the Met last week that the vigil would be policed sensitively. Khan, a former human rights lawyer, said this assurance had not been adhered to.
In his statement, Khan said : “The scenes arising from the policing of the vigil for Sarah Everard held on Clapham Common last night were completely unacceptable. My thoughts remain with Sarah’s family at this awful time.
“Last week I called on the government and police to work with the organisers of the vigil to clarify the law and find a way for it to take place legally and safely. On Friday a high court judge made clear there was a window to agree a way for a vigil to go ahead safely. I received assurances from the Metropolitan police last week that the vigil would be policed sensitively. In my view, this was not the case.
“I asked the commissioner and deputy commissioner to come into City Hall today to give me an explanation of yesterday’s events and the days leading up to them. I am not satisfied with the explanation they have provided.
“I will now be asking Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to conduct a full independent investigation of events yesterday evening and in previous days. I am also asking the Independent Office for Police Conduct to investigate the actions of police officers yesterday evening.”
He added: “It is vital that these events are not allowed to undermine the powerful calls since Sarah’s [alleged] murder for meaningful action to finally stop men inflicting violence on women. It was clear before yesterday that there isn’t adequate trust and confidence from women and girls in the police and criminal justice system more widely. Further steps must now be taken to address this.”
The statement does not address the issue of whether the mayor has full confidence in the commissioner he helped appoint in 2017 as the first woman to lead the UK’s biggest force.
The home secretary has asked the Met for a report on why the clashes happened, which is expected on Sunday. Sources said Priti Patel was “personally upset” by images of women being grabbed by police at the candlelit vigil, which the Duchess of Cambridge had visited earlier on Saturday.
The mayor’s intervention came as the force’s response to officers clashing with women was described as being “from the handbook of abusers” by Nimco Ali, a government adviser on tackling violence against women and girls.
Ali, who is friends with Boris Johnson’s fiancee, Carrie Symonds, also attacked “toxic masculinity” in policing around the world. She spoke out amid widespread criticism of Saturday evening’s “disturbing” scenes on Clapham Common.
Writing on Twitter, Ali criticised a Met statement saying officers acted to enforce coronavirus laws. “The Met statement regarding last night is victim blaming BS right from the handbook of abusers. ‘You made me do it.’ ‘I had to do what I had to because I cared.’ Honestly what is going on with this force?” she tweeted.
She said she was speaking as an activist not a government adviser.
Later, Ali told Times Radio: “Honestly, it does come from the handbook of abusive men, where … you’re constantly blaming the victim for your act of violence, so rather than actually taking accountability it was more like ‘women should not have turned up’.
“The police had the opportunity to choose how they reacted and they reacted in a terrible way and a disproportionate way.”
Defending the police’s actions, the Met assistant commissioner Helen Ball 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.”
The former chief constable of Greater Manchester police Sir Peter Fahy told the Guardian the coronavirus laws voted through by parliament left police in an impossible position. “If politicians are going to rush to judgment on the basis of mobile phone footage, having previously demanded police take firmer action breaking up gatherings, all police chiefs [are] in an impossible position,” he said.
The leader of the Met’s rank and file officers also took a swipe at politicians. Ken Marsh, the chair of the Met Police Federation, said: “Politicians of all parties should make themselves aware of all the facts before rushing to judgment and making statements.”