A woman who was arrested at a London vigil for Sarah Everard has said she is preparing to initiate legal proceedings against the Metropolitan police unless they withdraw the fixed penalty notice they imposed on her.
The image of 28-year-old physics student Patsy Stevenson being pinned to the floor by two male police officers, hands held behind her back, on 13 March was one of the defining images in criticism of how the vigil on Clapham Common was policed.
In a pre-action letter to the Met, asking them to reply by 2 July, her lawyers, Bindmans LLP, argue the £200 fixed penalty notice administered for being “present at a large-scale gathering” was the consequence of an unlawful policing operation where a number of attenders were subjected to excessive force and unnecessary arrests. They also say Stevenson’s rights of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly under the Human Rights Act were breached.
Stevenson said: “This should have been a safe space for us to freely express ourselves. I am angry that the police shut down our space to mourn and comfort each other, and I feel violated that male officers used physical force to do so.
“I will not be silenced by such actions and I am prepared to robustly challenge the police for their conduct on that day until there has been an acknowledgment and apology for their wrongdoing.”
Despite widespread condemnation from public figures and calls for the Met commissioner, Cressida Dick, to resign, a report by the police inspectorate exonerated the Met.
Rachel Harger, Stevenson’s solicitor, said: “The decision to opt for a heavy police presence at this vigil was rooted in the Metropolitan police maintaining a position, wrong in law, that participation in the vigil was a criminal act under the coronavirus regulations.”
The Met confirmed it had received a letter but said it was not prepared to discuss the matter further.
Meanwhile, Reclaim These Streets has reached an initial funding target of £20,000 to take the Met back to court in an attempt to limit powers to prevent protests in England and Wales, as MPs consider the new policing bill.
The group is hoping to raise an additional £100,000 to “expose the police’s abuse of their powers and protect everyone’s protest rights for the future” and cover the costs of a full judicial review. It is also organising another vigil with Mina Smallman to mark the deaths of her daughters, Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry, who were found dead in Fryent Country Park in Brent, London, on 7 June 2020.
In March, Reclaim These Streets took the police to the high court for an emergency hearing after police said they could be fined tens of thousands of pounds for organising a short, peaceful vigil to honour Everard. After their challenge failed, they cancelled the event citing the police’s “lack of constructive engagement”, but hundreds still gathered.
Adam Wagner, a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers who is representing the group, said the case would argue that the Met “totally misunderstood” its duties under human rights law and the right to protest. “When it comes to people expressing their opinions in a public way, it can’t be the police deciding who can do that and who can’t.”
Anna Birley, a Reclaim These Streets organiser, said the Met had allowed football fans to congregate in Leicester Square, and had not prevented protests by anti-lockdown marchers.
“It is clear that police treat different events, and different types of people, differently,” she said. “For them, it isn’t about public health, it’s about reputation and gender.”