Women's Journal

Arrested at Sarah Everard Vigil: Women Share Traumatic Experiences with Metropolitan Police

Image Commercially Licensed from: Unsplash
Image Commercially Licensed from: Unsplash

Patsy Stevenson and Dania Al-Obeid Reach Settlement in Legal Claim Against Met Police

In an emotionally charged interview with the BBC, Patsy Stevenson, a woman arrested at the Sarah Everard vigil in 2021, reveals that she still suffers from trauma and nightmares due to the way the police handled the situation. Ms. Stevenson, along with fellow protester Dania Al-Obeid, has reached a settlement with the Metropolitan Police after filing a lawsuit against the force over their treatment. While the women express relief that the case has come to a close, Ms. Stevenson believes that the Met has not taken full responsibility for their actions.

Ms. Stevenson, speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, shares that she had never attended a public demonstration before participating in the vigil at London’s Clapham Common in March 2021. Contrary to popular assumption, she explains that she was not affiliated with any organization or protest group. Instead, she went to the vigil with a friend to place a candle in tribute to Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old woman who was kidnapped, raped, and murdered by a police officer named Wayne Couzens.

Recalling the events that unfolded at the vigil, Ms. Stevenson recounts how another woman reached out to her for help. Unbeknownst to her at the time, that woman was Dania Al-Obeid. Ms. Stevenson found herself backed against a railing with numerous police officers behind her and hundreds of people in front of her, all filming the scene on their phones. She felt trapped and feared being pulled backwards. Determined to show solidarity, she and three other women decided to stay put.

Images of women being handcuffed and led away by officers caused widespread anger over Scotland Yard’s handling of the vigil. The event, which had been planned with social distancing measures in place, was initially canceled by the Met due to lockdown restrictions. However, people continued to gather throughout the day, including Catherine, Princess of Wales. As evening fell, clashes between police and attendees ensued.

In letters to Ms. Stevenson and Ms. Al-Obeid, Commander Karen Findlay of the Metropolitan Police acknowledges their motivations for attending the vigil, expressing grief and anger over Sarah Everard’s tragic death. Commander Findlay also acknowledges the widespread concern and dissatisfaction felt by women who felt let down by the police. She admits that the coronavirus pandemic posed significant challenges for officers tasked with maintaining public health and safety.

Ms. Stevenson describes the past few years as overwhelming, revealing that she has been crying non-stop since learning of the settlement. While she expresses relief and immense joy over the resolution, she believes that the Met has not fully accepted responsibility for her arrest, stating that she sees room for improvement in their apology. Nonetheless, she considers the settlement a significant milestone in the campaign for justice.

Commander Findlay emphasizes the importance of the right to protest while acknowledging the difficulties posed by the pandemic. She expresses regret for curtailing the women’s opportunity to express their grief and anger and assures them that efforts are underway to address failings in the Met’s response to violence against women and girls. Law firm Bindmans, representing the two women, has requested details of this work.

Neither the Metropolitan Police nor Bindmans have disclosed the amount paid to Ms. Stevenson and Ms. Al-Obeid. Last year, the organizers of the vigil launched separate legal action, resulting in two High Court judges ruling that the Met had breached their rights and acted unlawfully. Later, the Crown Prosecution Service dropped the charges against six protesters accused of violating lockdown rules.

For Ms. Al-Obeid, a survivor of abuse, the period following her arrest was terrifying and confusing. She faced comments about her reasons for attending the vigil and accusations of hijacking the event. The experience reminded her of her past experiences with domestic abuse, where she was blamed. The settlement and apology from the Met finally make her feel heard and seen, reinforcing her belief in the need for justice.

In response to the settlement, a spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police acknowledges the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the vigil and defends the actions of individual officers. They state that the officers acted in good faith, interpreting complex and evolving legislation in challenging circumstances. The spokesperson highlights that a protracted legal dispute is not in anyone’s interest, particularly considering the distress experienced by the complainants.

Patsy Stevenson and Dania Al-Obeid have shared their traumatic experiences and reached a settlement with the Metropolitan Police over their arrest at the Sarah Everard vigil. While relieved that the case has come to an end, they believe that the Met has not taken full responsibility for their actions. The settlement represents a significant step towards justice, but both women emphasize the need for further accountability and improvement in addressing violence against women and girls.