30 March 2021

Met Police accused of ‘tone deaf’ response to vigil criticism

30 March 2021

The Metropolitan Police faced a barrage of criticism over its handling of the Sarah Everard vigil.

There were accusations of heavy-handedness after women were bundled to the ground, and calls for force boss Dame Cressida Dick to resign, led by Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey.

Questions were also raised about her relationship with Home Secretary Priti Patel, who weeks previously had refused three times in a radio interview to express full confidence in the Met Police chief.

Inspectors called in to examine the force’s handling of the event on Clapham Common on March 13 did not criticise Ms Patel’s reaction in recognising that the clashes with police were worrying.

But in its report published on Tuesday, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) found that other commentators had jumped to conclusions and undermined public confidence in police.

A total of nine arrests were made at the event, attended by around 1,500 people.

The report said: “The chorus of those condemning the Metropolitan Police, and calling for the resignation of the commissioner, within hours of the arrests – and presumably, with a very limited understanding of what had happened – was unwarranted.

“Whereas a certain degree of uninformed commentary, particularly on social media, is inevitable, in this case some of the leading voices were those in positions of some responsibility.

“It is one thing – as in the case of the Home Secretary – to recognise that the scenes were worrying or upsetting (and to order an inspection such as this).

People talk to police as they gathered at the band stand in Clapham Common (PA Wire)

“It is another to jump to conclusions – and in doing so, undermine public confidence in policing – based on very limited evidence.

“To do so shows a distinct lack of respect for public servants facing, as we have described, a sensitive and complex situation.”

But HMICFRS acknowledged that the Met Police’s own “tone deaf” response to the event had itself undermined confidence in the force, and failed to effectively make the case for the officers involved.

It said: “The media coverage of this incident led to what many will conclude was a public relations disaster for the Metropolitan Police.

“It was on a national and international scale, with a materially adverse effect on public confidence in policing.”

The report went on: “In this social media age, police forces need to find ways to make their perspective count early.

A demonstrator holds up a placard addressing Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick (PA Wire)

“We heard the Metropolitan Police’s response to events described as ‘tone deaf’; we acknowledge that a more conciliatory response might have served the force’s interests better.”

Assistant Commissioner Louisa Rolfe told the PA news agency that the force was not prepared for the tide of emotion surrounding the vigil.

She said: “We were understandably unprepared for the wave of sentiments that came from this event and we are listening. They were referring to a particular statement that we put out in the immediate hours after the event.

“On the back of that, we are listening. It’s opened up opportunities for us for a deeper conversation with the women’s sector, with charities who support victims of violence against women and girls. We take that kind of feedback really seriously, we’re not complacent.

“We know that trust in us is absolutely at the heart of our response to crime, particularly violence against women and girls. We’re working really hard to build that trust and improve our response.”

Ken Marsh, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, called on those who had criticised the force to apologise.

Metropolitan Police chairman Ken Marsh (PA Media)

He said: “We said on the very evening, that politicians of all parties should make themselves aware of all the facts before rushing to judgment and making statements.

“But these armchair critics on their Saturday night sofas did not. The knee-jerk commentary from politicians of all parties – who as the report states were reacting to a snapshot on social media rather than the facts – has made the already difficult job of our colleagues in London incredibly harder. And more dangerous. And for that, these people should be ashamed.

“This was outrageous behaviour from those who should know better and we trust as elected officials, and we now call on these politicians to make themselves accountable and to apologise to our hard-working colleagues for the damage they have done.”

His call for an apology was echoed by national chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, John Apter.

Mr Apter said: “The actions of my colleagues at this vigil were harshly criticised by ill-informed people. These included some politicians and media, and others in positions of authority and influence.

“They inflamed the situation and created further tension. They also undermined the incredibly difficult and complex job police officers do, especially in these types of situations. In addition, they further undermined the confidence the public have in policing.

“Police officers were unfairly vilified and the comments about their actions were wholly disproportionate and damaging. Those responsible should reflect on their behaviour and publicly apologise to my colleagues.”

The best videos delivered daily

Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox