British PM Johnson deeply concerned at footage of police breaking up vigil

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LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 14: Police officers stand in front of members of the public holding up signs as they stand on a wall surrounding the fountain at Trafalgar Square during a protest against the The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill and criticising the actions of the police at last night's vigil on March 14, 2021 in London, England. Hundreds of people turned out in Clapham Common on Saturday night to pay tribute to Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old London resident whose kidnapping and death - allegedly at the hands of an off-duty Metropolitan Police officer - prompted a wave of concern over women's safety. The same police force is being criticised for its response to the vigil, where they forcibly arrested several participants for violations of pandemic-era rules on public assembly. (Photo by Hollie Adams/Getty Images)

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Sunday he was deeply concerned at footage of police breaking up and dragging women away from a vigil for a murdered woman that drew heavy public criticism of the force.

London police faced an official inquiry into their actions after they intervened on Saturday night in the vigil for Sarah Everard, 33, who disappeared as she walked home on March 3. A policeman has been charged with her murder.

“Like everyone who saw it I was deeply concerned about the footage from Clapham Common on Saturday night,” Johnson said in a statement, referring to the London parkland near where the impromptu gathering took place in defiance of a police ban due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Everard’s killing has provoked a huge outpouring of grief and dismay in Britain at the failure of police and wider society to tackle violence against women.

People will gather at Parliament Square later on Monday under the banner “End Violence Against Women”.

Johnson said the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick had committed to reviewing the police action and Interior minister Priti Patel had ordered a review to learn lessons on how to improve policing of such events in future.

Police chief Dick backed her officers and said that they needed to make a very difficult judgement.

“We’re still in a pandemic, unlawful gatherings are unlawful gatherings, officers have to take action if people are putting themselves massively at risk,” Dick told reporters.

Asked if she was considering resigning, she said: “No, I’m not.”

Kit Malthouse, the minister for crime and policing, was asked on Sky News if he backed calls for Dick to resign. “No I don’t,” he said.

“I do recognise that the police are in an incredibly difficult position, I mean throughout this pandemic, we’ve asked them to do a job that they’ve never done before, and to stand between the public and this terrible virus, in a way that none of us are used to,” Malthouse said.

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