U.K. Policing Bill Examined After Sarah Everard Vigil

U.K. Policing Bill Examined After Sarah Everard Vigil

Proposed legislation that would grant the British police more powers to control protests is being debated this week, and it faces renewed scrutiny after an outcry over the breaking up of a memorial event.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is meeting with law enforcement officials on Monday after the London police drew widespread criticism for the handling of a vigil on Saturday after the killing of a 33-year-old woman. The fallout comes as a proposed police bill that would grant more powers to control protests in Britain is set to be debated in Parliament this week and faces renewed scrutiny from opposition lawmakers and rights groups.

An investigation is getting underway into the policing of a vigil in South London on Saturday night for Sarah Everard, 33, whose killing touched off a national discussion over misogyny and violence. The vigil had been declared unlawful because of coronavirus restrictions, a move denounced by rights groups, and officers from the Metropolitan Police, the main London force, clashed with some attendees.

Mr. Johnson was scheduled to meet on Monday with ministers, senior police officers and prosecutors to discuss steps to tighten safety on streets for women and girls.

“Like everyone who saw it, I was deeply concerned about the footage from Clapham Common on Saturday night,” Mr. Johnson said, referring to the part of South London where Ms. Everard disappeared and where the vigil was held.

He added that he had spoken with Cressida Dick, the head of the Metropolitan Police, who had “committed to reviewing how this was handled.”

Priti Patel, the British cabinet minister overseeing policing, and Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, both called on Sunday for an independent review of policing tactics at the vigil.

Ms. Dick said on Sunday that a review would be good for “public confidence,” but resisted calls from some for her resignation and defended her officers, citing concerns over the coronavirus.

“Unlawful gatherings are unlawful gatherings,” she said. “Officers have to take action if people are putting themselves massively at risk.”

Ms. Everard, a marketing executive, disappeared while walking home in the evening from a friend’s house on March 3. Her body was identified on Friday and a Metropolitan Police officer has been charged in her killing.

Since last week, women in Britain, shaken by Ms. Everard’s disappearance and then news of her killing, have shared experiences of harassment and voiced a long-enduring anger over violence against women at the hands of men, culminating in the vigil on Saturday night.

Women’s rights activists and lawmakers have denounced heavy-handed policing at the vigil and called it particularly horrifying given that the event had been staged to decry violence against women, and that a police officer had been arrested in Ms. Everard’s case.

Fallout from the event and the timing of the government bill that would grant police more powers to control protests could lead to more unrest. Protesters announced plans on Monday morning for a rally outside government buildings later in the day.

Hundreds of people gathered on Sunday in a march through central London, chanting “Kill the Bill.”

Attention is now focusing on the proposed policing bill, which will be debated in Parliament this week. The bill would introduce tougher penalties for serious crimes and end a policy that releases prisoners after serving half of a fixed sentence for some crimes, in addition to giving broader authority to police protests.

Lawmakers from the opposition Labour Party have said they will now vote against the bill over concerns it would impede the rights of protesters.

“This is no time to be rushing through poorly thought-out measures to impose disproportionate controls on free expression and the right to protest,” said David Lammy, a Labour lawmaker who is the party’s justice spokesman, adding that the bill was “a mess, which could lead to lead to harsher penalties for damaging a statue than for attacking a woman.”