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Watchdog report: British police not at fault for clashes at Sarah Everard vigil

Watchdog report: British police not at fault for clashes at Sarah Everard vigil
Activists rally near Parliament Square in London, Britain, on March 15 during a protest in the death of Sarah Everard, whose body was found in a wooded area earlier this month. Photo by Neil H./EPA-EFE

March 30 (UPI) -- A British watchdog said a report Tuesday that police acted appropriately when dispersing a crowd that gathered for a vigil to honor Sarah Everard, a woman who was found dead in a wooded area this month.

The crowd gathered for the vigil on March 13, although the London area was still on COVID-19-related lockdown. The restriction led police to break up the crowd and make arrests, and also included some clashes between police and female mourners.

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was criticized for the police response and activists called for the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police to resign.

The report Tuesday by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services said officers at the vigil did their best to peacefully disperse the crowd, remained calm and professional when subjected to abuse and did not act inappropriately or in a heavy-handed manner.

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The report said the agency came to its conclusion after viewing police body camera footage, documents, media evidence and speaking with investigators, vigil organizers and others at the event.

"Public confidence in the police is critical," Thomas Winsor, chief inspector of constabulary, said in a statement. "It is therefore important that there has been an independent, objective, evidence-based inspection to provide public reassurance, which we provide today.

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"[Police] rely upon and are entitled to receive public support when they act lawfully, sensitively and proportionately; in this case, in the face of severe provocation and in very difficult circumstances, they did just that."

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Organizers of the event, the group Reclaim These Streets, said the report shows that "antagonistic" police actions caused the clashes at the vigil and blamed government officials.

"The report also shows a failure from the home secretary and policing minister on providing a political steer for the police on this event," the group tweeted.

"Instead of taking responsibility for their actions, the Metropolitan Police is standing behind claims that were inexperienced organizers, despite some of us being elected officials and others having a decade-long track record of working with police and council on events."

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