London, Mar 15 (PTI) Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday chaired a meeting of the UK government’s Crime and Justice Taskforce to discuss further steps to protect women in the wake of the kidnap and murder of a 33-year-old woman in London that has sent shockwaves across the country.
While he backed Scotland Yard Commissioner Cressida Dick amid mounting criticism of her officers’ handling of a vigil in memory of victim Sarah Everard, Johnson acknowledged that he too had been “deeply concerned” by the footage of the police action over the weekend.
There had been widespread calls for the Metropolitan Police chief to step down after officers policing the vigil in south London on Saturday were accused of heavy-handedness as four arrests were made.
“Like everyone who saw it, I was deeply concerned about the footage from Clapham Common on Saturday night,” said Johnson.
“I have spoken with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner who has committed to reviewing how this was handled and the Home Secretary (Priti Patel) has also commissioned HM Inspectorate of Constabulary to conduct a lessons learned review into the policing of the event,” he said.
“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,” he said.
The taskforce meeting brings together ministers, senior police officers and representatives from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
It comes as Patel made a statement in the House of Commons over the issue as the government’s new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill opened for debate.
The bill includes new measures to toughen sentences for rapists, to stop the early release of serious sexual and violent offenders, and to toughen the law on domestic violence.
“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,” said Patel.
“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,” she said.
People had gathered informally for Saturday's vigil in a show of solidarity with Everard’s friends and family after a formal event organised by Reclaim These Streets was cancelled following talks with the Met Police, which said it would be in breach of coronavirus rules. Four people were later arrested for public order and coronavirus regulation breaches.
“I wouldn't have wanted to see a vigil in memory of Sarah end with those scenes,” Cressida Dick said in a statement in response to the criticism of the policing action.
“This is fiendishly difficult policing, but I'm sure for the people who wanted to express their feelings, that was a difficult situation for them and that's why it needs a cold light of day, sober, review, and I think we're all agreed on that,” she said.
A serving Met Police officer Wayne Couzens, 48, remains behind bars after being charged with the kidnap and murder of Everard, whose body was found in woodlands 100 km from London after she went missing while on her way back home from a friend’s house in the UK capital earlier this month. PTI AK CPS