Talks are continuing between the organisers of a vigil planned for Sarah Everard in south London and the Metropolitan Police to discuss how the event can safely take place.

Reclaim These Streets plans to hold the vigil on Clapham Common – near to where the 33-year-old was last seen alive.

But gatherings are not permitted under coronavirus rules and a High Court judge has refused to grant permission.

Vigils are planned across the UK, but two in Edinburgh have been called off.

Ms Everard’s disappearance when she was walking home along a main road in Clapham on 3 March has prompted a public debate on women’s safety.

The Metropolitan Police has urged people to find a “lawful and safer way” to express their view on the issue.

On Friday, serving Met Police officer Wayne Couzens, 48, was charged with the kidnap and murder of Ms Everard.

As well as the vigil on Clapham Common at 18:00 GMT, sister events have been planned for other cities and towns including Cambridge, Cardiff, Leeds, St Andrews and Liverpool.

Vigils paying tribute to Ms Everard were due to be held in Edinburgh, but were called off by organisers on Friday in favour of an online-only event.

On the Clapham Common vigil, Reclaim These Streets said in a statement: “We are now in discussions with the Met to confirm how the event can proceed in a way that is proportionate and safe – our number one priority.”

Commander Catherine Roper of the Met Police said the force’s message to those wishing to attend vigils was “stay at home or find a lawful and safer way to express your views”.

image captionSarah Everard had been walking to her home in Brixton when she disappeared

In the ruling on Friday, Mr Justice Holgate refused an application by Reclaim These Streets for the High Court to make “an interim declaration” that any ban on outdoor gatherings under Covid rules was “subject to the right to protest”.

The judge also refused to make a declaration that an alleged policy by the Met Police of “prohibiting all protests, irrespective of the specific circumstances” was unlawful.

Following the decision, a government spokesman said: “All of our thoughts are with Sarah’s family and friends at this terrible time, and the government recognises why so many women and girls across the country want to pay their respects.

“We are still in the middle of a pandemic, which is why we urge people to do this safely and to continue to avoid mass gatherings.”

One of the organisers of the south London vigil, Anna Birley, told the BBC the group had “consistently” asked the Met Police “to tell us what would be a safe way to exercise our right”.

Meanwhile, Harriet Harman, the Labour MP for Camberwell and Brixton, tweeted: “C’mon [Metropolitan Police] now agree a way for this vigil to happen safely.

“Many women want to show their concern. Including women Met Police officers!”

Mr Justice Holgate hasn’t quite closed the door on the event going ahead anyway.

That’s because three long hours of legal argument thrashed out the legal principles that the Metropolitan Police should follow.

Critically, the force said it did not have a “blanket ban” on all protests – which meant it accepted it had to take into account the right to protest which is enshrined in human rights legislation.

The judge said: “There may well be further communication between the claimants and the police to deal with the application of the [Covid] regulations and [the rights to protest]. But that is not a matter on which the court should comment.”

What does that mean in practice? Well, we’re now waiting to see whether there are talks – and whether some kind of vigil will be deemed to be lawful after all.

At the court hearing, the judge said the organisers were told by police that “the vigil would be illegal and that their ‘hands were tied’ by Covid-19 regulations”.

He added that the four claimants “were told that, as organisers, they would be liable to be issued with £10,000 fixed penalty notices”, and could also be arrested.

Lawyers representing the organisers earlier argued the Met’s interpretation of Covid rules goes against human rights law.

But George Thomas, representing the Met, said the event could lead to significant crowds in a central London location, at a time when Parliament’s intention was to not allow gatherings of more than two people for health reasons amid the pandemic.

  • Under the current lockdown rules two people can meet for recreation outside, which can include “coffee on a bench”
  • From 29 March people will be allowed to meet outdoors, either with one other household or within the “rule of six”
  • Police can break up illegal gatherings and issue fines of £10,000 to someone holding a gathering of more than 30 people
  • During last year’s restrictions, when Black Lives Matter and anti-lockdown demonstrations took place, police took a hands-off approach to protests