LONDON — The mayor of London and the British cabinet minister responsible for policing called Sunday for an independent inquiry into how the city’s
LONDON — The mayor of London and the British cabinet minister responsible for policing called Sunday for an independent inquiry into how the city’s main police force broke up a vigil for Sarah Everard, the 33-year-old marketing executive whose killing has sparked a reckoning over violence against women.
The demand for an investigation came after images of officers clashing with women at the event prompted a widespread outcry.
The mayor, Sadiq Khan, said that “scenes arising from the policing of the vigil,” which had been banned under coronavirus restrictions, “were completely unacceptable,” and that he was “not satisfied” with explanations from the two top officers in the force, the Metropolitan Police.
A spokesman for the Home Office, the government department that oversees policing, confirmed on Sunday that Priti Patel, the home secretary, had asked the Inspectorate of Constabulary, a government body that assesses police forces, for a report into what happened at the vigil.
Mr. Khan said in a statement that he had sought a full inquiry from the same body, and that he was also asking another regulator, the Independent Office for Police Conduct, to investigate the actions of officers at the vigil.
The demands came as hundreds of people marched in central London on Sunday against police brutality and a bill to give the police more powers to control protests.
Women’s rights activists and lawmakers called the police actions heavy-handed and particularly upsetting given that the rally was staged to decry violence against women — and that a Metropolitan Police officer has been charged with kidnapping and murdering Ms. Everard. She disappeared while walking home from a friend’s house in Clapham on March 3.
Dame Cressida Dick, commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said Sunday that she welcomed an independent review.
Commissioner Dick said the first six hours of the vigil had been “calm and peaceful,” with few officers around. But after a big crowd gathered, she said, officers felt it had become an “unlawful gathering, which poses a considerable risk to people’s health.”
Activists had initially called people to attend the vigil, at Clapham Common in South London, on Saturday evening near where Ms. Everard was last seen. But the police warned that the gathering was unlawful, though people congregated in the park anyway.
As evening fell, the vigil grew into a protest over violence against women, and the police used force to try disperse some people.
Among the four people arrested was a 28-year-old protester, Patsy Stevenson. Images of her being pinned to the ground by several police officers quickly went viral.
“This incident is an opportunity to constructively start a dialogue and a movement for change within society so that no women feels fear walking down the street,” Ms. Stevenson said in an interview.
She called on protesters to gather Monday at Parliament Square.
For many, Ms. Stevenson’s treatment at the hands of the police resonated deeply.
Jamie Klingler, an organizer of the vigil, called the image of “a man on her back at a violence against women vigil” horrific and “very upsetting.”
Mayor Khan said that the police had assured him last week that the vigil would be handled with sensitivity. He said he had met Sunday with Commissioner Dick, and her deputy, Stephen House, to demand an explanation.
“I am not satisfied with the explanation they have provided,” the mayor said.
In a statement overnight, Helen Ball, an assistant commissioner for the Metropolitan Police, said that officers on the ground were “faced with a difficult decision” in the evening after hundreds of people “packed tightly together, posing a very real risk of easily transmitting Covid-19.”
“Police must act for people’s safety,” she said. “This is the only responsible thing to do. The pandemic is not over, and gatherings of people from right across London and beyond are still not safe.”
Still, she said, “We accept that the actions of our officers have been questioned.”