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Sarah Everard: Metropolitan Police breached vigil organisers’ rights, High Court judges rule

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High Court judges have ruled that the Metropolitan Police breached the rights of the organisers of a vigil for Sarah Everard in its handling of the planned event.

Reclaim These Streets (RTS) proposed a socially-distanced vigil for the murdered 33-year-old near to where she went missing in Clapham, south London, in March last year.

The four women who founded RTS and planned the vigil withdrew from organising it after being told by the force they would face fines of £10,000 each and possible prosecution if the event went ahead.

A spontaneous vigil and protest took place instead.

Jessica Leigh, Anna Birley, Henna Shah and Jamie Klingler brought a legal challenge against the Met Police over its handling of the event.

They argued decisions made by the force in advance of the planned vigil amounted to a breach of their human rights to freedom of speech and assembly and said the force did not assess the potential risk to public health.

In a ruling on Friday, two senior judges upheld their claim, finding the Met’s decisions in the run-up to the event were “not in accordance with the law”.

In a summary of the ruling, Lord Justice Warby said: “The relevant decisions of the (Met) were to make statements at meetings, in letters, and in a press statement, to the effect that the Covid-19 regulations in force at the time meant that holding the vigil would be unlawful.

“Those statements interfered with the claimants’ rights because each had a ‘chilling effect’ and made at least some causal contribution to the decision to cancel the vigil.

“None of the (force’s) decisions was in accordance with the law; the evidence showed that the (force) failed to perform its legal duty to consider whether the claimants might have a reasonable excuse for holding the gathering, or to conduct the fact-specific proportionality assessment required in order to perform that duty.”

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