Politicians from all sides have criticised police for their handling of a gathering at Clapham Common to remember Sarah Everard.
A vigil had initially been planned but it was cancelled after police said it risked breaching lockdown rules and the organisers, Reclaim These Streets, decided it could not go ahead.
But despite this, hundreds of people gathered at the common, in south London, with the Duchess of Cambridge even joining them briefly late in the afternoon.
By the evening, the sombre atmosphere turned to one of anger and protest, with scuffles as police tried to get attendees to go home.
The scenes in Clapham this evening are deeply disturbing. Women came together to mourn Sarah Everard – they should have been able to do so peacefully.
I share their anger and upset at how this has been handled. This was not the way to police this protest.
— Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) March 13, 2021
One video posted online showed Met Police officers grabbing women standing on the common’s bandstand before leading them away, to screaming and shouting from onlookers.
Labour Leader Keir Starmer wrote on Twitter that the scenes were “deeply disturbing”.
He added: “Women came together to mourn Sarah Everard – they should have been able to do so peacefully.
“I share their anger and upset at how this has been handled. This was not the way to police this protest.”
Liberal Democrats leader Sir Ed Davey wrote on Twitter: “The Met Police have acted terribly and caused great harm and hurt.
“Millions of women are angry and in grief, Sarah Everard’s horrific murder and the millions of acts of assault women face every day are why women created this vigil.”
Conservative MP Steve Baker said the scenes were “unspeakable”, adding: “You need to change lockdown law now Boris Johnson.”
Mr Baker has previously called for a faster easing of coronavirus restrictions.
Streatham MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy tweeted footage of the clashes, saying: “This could have been the socially distanced vigil the community needed to remember Sarah and all the women who have lost their lives to violence.
“We knew what was going to happen if the event was shut down.
“I know Lambeth Borough officers made efforts to compromise with the organisers but were overruled from high up.
“They’ll be left to deal with the fallout of this and the further burden it places on already strained community relationships. Very disappointing from Scotland Yard.”
Labour’s Sarah Owen added: “No one can see these scenes and think that this has been handled anything but badly by Met Police. It could and should have been so different.”
Charlotte Nichols, shadow minister for women and equalities, wrote on Twitter: “If Met Police had put the resources into assisting Reclaim These Streets to hold the COVID-secure vigil originally planned that they put into stopping any collective show of grief and solidarity (both through the courts and a heavy-handed physical response), we’d all be in a better place.”
Nick Timothy, who was an adviser to then prime minister Theresa May, wrote that the Met had “shamed Britain tonight”, adding: “The policing of the Sarah Everard vigil at Clapham Common is a disgrace.”
Police said the gathering was “unsafe” and was a breach of coronavirus regulations.
A tweet from the Lambeth police account said: “The gathering at #ClaphamCommon is unsafe. Hundreds of people are tightly packed together in breach of the regulations and risking public health.
“We are urging people to go home and we thank those who have been engaging with officers and who are leaving.”
Ms Everard, a marketing executive, went missing while walking home across Clapham Common earlier this month and was later found dead in a woodland in Kent.
Wayne Couzens, a Metropolitan Police officer, appeared in person before Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Saturday charged with her kidnap and murder.