London (AP) – For British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Sarah Everard’s case is walking on a tightrope.
After the partly violent disbandment of a vigil of hundreds of women and despite impressive protest photos in front of parliament, the head of government expressed understanding for the protesters’ anger. At the same time, out of respect for his conservative party friends, Johnson must not expose the police, already heavily burdened by the corona pandemic.
The prime minister announced that a working group will meet next Monday. The goal is to discuss measures to protect women and girls and ensure that “our streets are safe,” the government announced Monday. “Sarah Everard’s death must unite us in a decision to eradicate violence against women and girls and use every part of the justice system to protect and defend them,” Johnson said.
The case has kept the country in suspense for days: Sarah Everard disappeared without a trace in South London on the evening of March 3 while walking home from a friend. A police officer is believed to have kidnapped and killed her on his way back from duty. Her body has now been found in a forest in the southeastern English county of Kent, the suspect is in custody.
Since then there has been a debate about violence against women. Thousands of people reported their fears on social networks on their way home in the evening. On Saturday, thousands – including Duchess Kate – laid flowers in South London’s Clapham Common Park, where the 33-year-old was last seen. But in the evening, the situation escalated: because distance rules were ignored, police intervened, sometimes rude, photos of women tied to the ground in handcuffs. “Like anyone who has seen them, I was deeply moved by the photos of Clapham Common,” said Prime Minister Johnson.
For the police, the recordings are fatal, especially since the alleged murderer is a colleague: women demonstrating for protection from men are dragged by male police officers and pushed to the ground. There is great indignation about the hard work. London police chief Cressida Dick is responsible for the action. But she has the backing of the government. The police chief had promised to investigate the operation, Johnson said. The Ministry of the Interior has also ordered a review.
Ultimately, the police are trapped between all the faeces. “During this pandemic, we asked them to do something they had never done before,” the responsible Secretary of State, Kit Malthouse, defended officials. And Dania Al-Obeid, one of the women arrested, told BBC Radio 4, “They were only following orders.”
Indeed, the rules are clear: Due to the pandemic, mass events have been banned in England and the police must enforce that ban. Corona regulations made it more difficult to make decisions, Martin Hewitt, head of the Association of Police Chiefs, told the BBC. “You have to balance rights, legal requirements, health and safety.” Hewitt demanded that operations managers needed clear guidelines.
To make matters worse, there is a dispute about a new police law. The design, which was to be discussed in the House of Representatives on Monday, would greatly increase the powers of the police. “That would, in fact, put the current situation, where the Covid regulations have given the police too much power over our right to freedom of expression, on a permanent basis,” stressed lawyer Adam Wagner. In light of Clapham Common’s photos, the largest opposition party, Labor, has announced that it will vote against the law. Good food for the ruling conservatives, who now accuse the political opponent of rejecting the more stringent punishments in law for terrorists and serious criminals.
But observers warn that the real problem is about to be forgotten. “It has to be about women again,” said Vera Baird, victim protection officer for England and Wales, the BBC. Sarah Everard’s death is just the tip of the iceberg. Women saw streets as lawless places. Many of those affected have the impression that they are not being helped. “It is imperative that the government takes swift and sustained action to restore trust in the police and the criminal justice system – and in half the population,” said Baird.