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Police In London Clash With Crowd Mourning Sarah Everard's Death

NOEL KING, HOST:

Police in London broke up a vigil over the weekend held for a woman who was abducted and murdered. A police officer has been charged with those crimes.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Shame on you. Shame on you. Shame on you.

KING: Anger over this is not confined to London. It's spread across the country now. NPR London correspondent Frank Langfitt has been following this. Good morning, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: And good morning, Noel.

KING: What happened to this woman?

LANGFITT: Yeah, her name is Sarah Everard, 33-year-old marketing executive. And she was walking home one night earlier this month in south London, just disappeared. Her body was found later in the neighboring county. And as you mentioned, this police officer has been arrested in the killing. Now, the same officer was reportedly - had reportedly exposed himself to people at a fast-food restaurant just three days before the disappearance. There's an investigation into what police knew about that. And I think the case here has really resonated with a lot of women who have to put up with sexual harassment on the streets and often feel unsafe. I was talking to a woman named Grace Pedley (ph). She's a 19-year-old law student here. She actually walks the streets where Everard disappeared. And she went to Saturday's vigil. This is what she said.

GRACE PEDLEY: As a young woman who often walks alone at night, it's quite concerning because it could be me. It can be my friends. It could be my mom. It could be anyone. And, you know, I'm looking over my shoulder now when it's dark.

KING: OK, so she's saying she and other women are scared. And then you had this event on Saturday night. It's supposed to be a vigil. It turned into something that sounds a bit like a protest. What happened?

LANGFITT: Yeah, so it started off very quiet. People were social distancing in a park. And I should remind everybody we are on lockdown, so you're not supposed to be out even socially distancing, really. And then some women began to give speeches on a bandstand in this part. There were anti-police chants. And witnesses say and video shows that the police began actually pulling women off the bandstand, even putting some on the ground and cuffing them. And people were really upset by this, especially people watching on social media. And a woman named Maya Kocabasey (ph), she was there. She studies comp lit at the University College London. And this was how she felt about the cops.

MAYA KOCABASEY: I think the whole situation was grossly mishandled by the police because at no point did you feel like they understood why you were there.

KING: How are the police explaining what happened?

LANGFITT: Yeah. Well, there have been some calls for Cressida Dick - she's the commissioner of the London Met Police - to resign. She's refused. And what she said is personally she's sympathetic to this cause. She would have been out there if she could have, you know, if it were actually legal. But she says when the vigil seemed to morph into a rally, police felt they had to act.

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CRESSIDA DICK: My team felt this is now an unlawful gathering, which poses a considerable risk to people's health, according to the regulations; a really invidious position for my officers to find themselves in.

KING: So what happens now? Do you imagine a type of protest continuing over this?

LANGFITT: Well, there were already - there were actually protests yesterday in front of New Scotland Yard. So they have - now protesting the police handling the vigil. There's going to be a lot of questions for the police about how they handled this, also about this police officer. London Mayor Sadiq Khan has said this is unacceptable. And this morning, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is chairing a meeting to find ways to protect people better on the streets of the capital.

KING: NPR London correspondent Frank Langfitt. Thanks, Frank.

LANGFITT: You're very welcome, Noel.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE CINEMATIC ORCHESTRA'S "NECROLOGY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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