A UK watchdog has found that the Metropolitan Police acted "appropriately" during the 13 March vigil for Sarah Everard in south London.
The Met was slammed for their handling of the vigil at Clapham Common, with many calling for London Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick's resignation. During the event, clashes broke out as police officers told participants to go home and police were seen grabbing hold of several women and leading them away in handcuffs.
Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) claimed in a Tuesday report that the use of force by police was "justified" when they decided that the risks of transmitting COVID-19 "were too great to ignore".
HMICFRS insisted that police "did their best to peacefully disperse the crowd", and that officers were not heavy-handed, remaining "calm and professional" when subjected to abuse during the protests.
"It is one thing... to recognise that the scenes were worrying or upsetting (and to order an inspection such as this). It is another to jump to conclusions - and in doing so, undermine public confidence in policing - based on very limited evidence", the watchdog argued.
At the same time, the inspectorate admitted that policing the vigil was a "public relations disaster", asserting that "a more conciliatory response after the event might have served the Met's interests better".
Jessica Leigh, one of the vigil's organisers, was quick to criticise the HMICFRS report as "a missed opportunity to recognise the damage done by the police's decision to push for the event to be cancelled, and exacerbated by their actions while policing" the vigil.
She was echoed by Estelle du Boulay, director of the group Rights of Women, who claimed the report's conclusions "will do nothing to improve women's confidence in policing and will further deepen the widespread distrust in accountability mechanisms in relation to the police".
Home Secretary Priti Patel has, meanwhile, underscored the importance of people not judging police actions "by footage that was put out and aired on broadcast without knowing the full facts […]".
"I do also think images can be taken out of context and we should not prejudge", Patel pointed out, adding she was "appalled and shocked" to learn officers had been assaulted during the vigil.
The home secretary warned that violence towards officers was "simply unacceptable" and said the police had "conducted themselves in the right way".
Politicians Point the Finger at Police Over Everard Vigil
The Met initially denied permission for the 13 March vigil, referring to COVID-19 restrictions for their refusal to sanction the event.
Shortly after the event Labour leader Keir Starmer called the Met crackdown-related videos that emerged on social media "deeply concerning", while Patel said she would like to hear from the police about the matter.
Sarah Everard, 33, disappeared as she was walking home from Clapham to Brixton on the evening of 3 March. Her body was found hidden in a builder's bag in a wooded area in Ashford, Kent a week later.
Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens was remanded into custody after being accused of the kidnapping and murder of Everard.