COPS will be “held accountable” for the “distressing” scenes as they broke up a vigil to murdered Sarah Everard – but Met chief Cressida Dick should cling onto her job, the policing minister said today.
Kit Malthouse said images of officers arresting women at the gathering on Saturday night were “alarming” and an independent probe into their actions will get to the bottom of “what actually happened”.
But he insisted Dame Cressida should defy widespread calls to resign over the incident, saying the police had been put in an “incredibly difficult position” trying to ensure lockdown laws were observed.
He said: “Along with everybody else I found it very distressing and the pictures were obviously alarming.
“We have to reflect on the fact that Saturday obviously saw unleashing a huge amount of emotion and anger not just about the appalling crime that had occurred but about a repressed sense of women’s safety and that that was in jeopardy and under threat.”
But asked if Dame Cressida should resign, he replied: “No I don’t and I do recognise the police are in an incredibly difficult position.
“Throughout this pandemic we’ve asked them to do a job they’ve never done before and to stand between the public and this terrible virus.
“That very, very difficult position they’re in needs to be reflected in our contemplation of this.
“In the vast majority of cases the police and the public have managed this situation extremely well between them.
“In these circumstances it’s very important we get to the detail of what’s happened and that’s what I think will emerge over the next couple of weeks.”
He added: “Cressida Dick is an officer of superlative achievements in her life, and she’s been close to some incredibly successful investigations.
“I know that she is very dedicated and committed to this issue of dealing with violence against women and girls.”
Mr Malthouse acknowledged mass gatherings are illegal and that Home Secretary Priti Patel has urged the police to make sure people “observe the law”.
He said: “We’ve all been very focussed on suppressing the virus and it’s now more important than ever we do so.
“The virus is reemerging in countries in the EU, so we’re in a very perilous moment. It’s only a few weeks since the NHS was under significant stress.
“We want to make sure that large groups don’t congregate and risk at our critical moment in the battle against this virus any kind of transmission.
“Now is a critical moment for us to keep our advantage, we see countries like Italy contemplating yet another lockdown.
“We cannot have that awful calamity, here in this country again and so we have to make these very difficult choices.”
Mr Malthouse also revealed 64,000 women have come forward with their experiences of sexual harassment in light of Sarah’s murder.
He said huge numbers of people have contributed to a Government consultation on violence against women since it was reopened on Friday night.
It came as Boris Johnson prepares to chair a meeting of the Crime and Justice Taskforce today which will look into ways to make Britain’s streets safer.
The Home Secretary is expected to attend alongside with Dame Cressida and the Director of Public Prosecutions Max Hill.
They will discuss the Government’s strategy on preventing violence against women, rape prosecutions and the criminal justice system.
Ahead of the meeting, the PM said: “Like everyone who saw it I was deeply concerned about the footage from Clapham Common on Saturday night.
“I have spoken with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner who has committed to reviewing how this was handled and the Home Secretary has also commissioned HM Inspectorate of Constabulary to conduct a lessons learned review into the policing of the event.”
Mr Johnson added: “The death of Sarah Everard must unite us in determination to drive out violence against women and girls and make every part of the criminal justice system work to protect and defend them.”
The Home Secretary added: “With Sarah and her family in my thoughts and prayers, I will continue to do all I can in my role as Home Secretary to protect women and girls.
“Everyone should be free to walk our streets without fear of harassment, abuse or violence.
“The Home Office survey on tackling violence against women and girls has received an unprecedented 53,000 responses since it reopened on Friday and I’d urge everyone to give us their views.”
It came after organisers of Saturday night’s vigil slammed Dame Cressida for “failing to work” with them over organising the memorial, which cops stormed on Saturday night.
Reclaim These Streets said they were “disappointed” after the Met Commissioner publicly defended the her force’s policing of the event.
She even claimed she would have attended the event – which the Duchess of Cambridge dropped in on – if it had been “lawful”.
And the top cop insisted she was “determined to lead” the Met despite growing calls for her resignation.
Cops were filmed dragging women away from a bandstand as thousands gathered in Clapham, South London, to remember Sarah.