Women vow to defy ban on vigils for Sarah Everard in UK murder case

Ms Sarah Everard disappeared while walking home from a friend's house on March 3. PHOTOS: AFP, REUTERS

LONDON (THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION) - Women in Britain vowed to push ahead with vigils on Saturday (March 13) to remember murder victim Sarah Everard and protest about violence against women, despite organisers calling off events after police said these would breach Covid-19 restrictions.

Organisers at Reclaim These Streets said they were cancelling a vigil on Clapham Common in south London near where Everard was last seen. Numerous other planned vigils around the country also followed suit.

But some women and campaign groups said they would be out anyway while others arranged online events and doorstep tributes for Everard, whose killing has sparked widespread anger and fear about women's safety.

"To all those still thinking of heading to Clapham Common at 6pm tonight: we will be there! Please bring your sadness and your rage," said anti-abuse campaign group Sisters Uncut in a post on Twitter. "Police can ban a mass vigil or protest march but can't stop people walking on their own or as two. Would suggest that all those that can could take a short walk tonight ... " said another user in a post hashtagged #vigilforSarah.

Everard, 33, disappeared while walking home from a friend's house on March 3. Her body was later found in woods about 50 miles away in southeast England. London police officer Wayne Couzens, 48, appeared in court on Saturday charged with her kidnap and murder.

Her killing has led many women to share their fears of walking alone and experiences of being harassed or attacked by men in public, with calls for more action to be taken to address gendered violence and abuse.

Instead of a vigil on Clapham Common, Reclaim These Streets said it would be hosting an online meeting and asked supporters around the country to take part in a doorstep tribute with candles and lights. Numerous other vigils were planned around the country, with many organisers also confirming these had been cancelled, postponed or moved online.

Currently, England is in a national lockdown to stem the coronavirus pandemic and people cannot leave or be outside of their homes except with a "reasonable excuse" and can only be outside with one other person. London's Metropolitan police faced criticism over its stance, with Reclaim These Streets saying the vigil would have been safe and legal.

Organisers cancelled after being told they could face fines of 10,000 pounds (S$18,700) each. "We take no joy in this event being cancelled, but it is the right thing to do given the real and present threat of Covid-19," Commander Catherine Roper, the Met's lead for community engagement, said in a statement. She added the police force understood the frustration of the cancellation but there were other ways to mourn in a safe way.

"Oh the irony. Women who want to reclaim the streets told to stay in," said one woman on Twitter under the name Bev Ayre. "Are we in Gilead yet?" said another post, referencing Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel "The Handmaid's Tale" in which women's lives and fertility are heavily controlled.

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