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Sarah Everard vigil attendees convicted and fined after Met Police prosecution

Three people have been convicted by a magistrate of breaking the Covid regulations by attending the event, each receiving a fine of £220 plus £134 in court costs and fees

<p>Dania Al-Obeida  attending the vigil Sarah Everard vigil</p>

Dania Al-Obeida attending the vigil Sarah Everard vigil

/ Reuters
By
Tristan KirkCourts Correspondent
@kirkkorner
09 June 2022
T

hree people who attended the vigil for Sarah Everard have been convicted and fined after a prosecution under Covid laws by the Metropolitan Police.

Criminal cases were brought against Dania Al-Obeid, 27, from Stratford, east London, Ben Wheeler, 21, from Kennington, and Manchester resident Kevin Godin-Prior, 68, over the incident on Clapham Common on March 13 last year.

Ms Everard, a 33-year-old marketing executive, had been kidnapped, raped and murdered days earlier by serving Met Police officer Wayne Couzens, in a crime that shocked the nation and sparked protests about women’s safety.

Scotland Yard successfully blocked an vigil at the bandstand on Clapham Common – one of the last places Ms Everard was seen alive – after threatening organisers with £10,000 fines under Covid regulations. But a spontaneous gathering then happened in the void.

Now, Ms Al-Obeid, Mr Wheeler, and Mr Godin-Prior have all been convicted by a magistrate of breaking the Covid regulations by attending the event, each receiving a fine of £220 plus £134 in court costs and fees.

A fourth defendant, Vivien Hohmann, 20, of Clapham, pleaded not guilty to the charge and is set to appear in court later this month, while prosecutions against two more vigil attendees, Jade Spence, 33, of Lambeth, and Jenny Edmunds, 32, of Lewisham, are expected next week.

The news of the prosecutions has sparked a renewed wave of anger at the Met Police’s handling of the vigil, which ended with women in handcuffs and being pinned to the ground by officers.

Crowds clashed with police after hundreds gathered on Clapham Common on March 13, 2020 in the wake of Sarah Everard’s death. (Victoria Jones/PA)

/ PA Archive

The High Court ruled in March this year that the Met’s blocking of the vigil being organised by activists at Reclaim These Streets (RTS) had been unlawful as the force had not considered the right to freedom of speech and assembly.

RTS co-founder Jamie Klingler called the criminal prosecutions “vindictive” and part of a “vendetta”, while suggesting the High Court ruling meant those attending the spontaneous vigil had a reasonable excuse for being at the bandstand.

Ms Al-Obeid, a marketing manager, said last week she had been totally unaware of the prosecution against her until it was reported in the Evening Standard, having asked to be contacted via email over the incident due to being out of the country.

On Tuesday, the Standard revealed the Met’s justifications for its actions on the night of the vigil, in court witness statements provide to support the prosecutions.

PC Alexander Davis claimed the “mood of the crowd had also shifted from showing respect to Sarah Everard to anti-police protest”, justifying the officers’ decision to start enforcing the Covid laws.

“There was a clear breach of coronavirus regulations taking place”, said PC Darryl Mayne. “I would describe the hostility as aggressive loud chants that I believed to be aimed at the police officers.

“From my own recollection I recall the crowd screaming what I believed to be the following ‘GO AWAY’ ‘MURDERERS’ ‘ARREST YOUR OWN’.

“Something that also stood out to me why present at location was the crowd shout ‘IT SHOULD BE YOU’ to officers which caused me to feel distress upon hearing this.”

PC Mayne said he challenged four women linking arms in front of the bandstand, including Ms Al-Obeid, and claimed he “was unsure whether she was going physically assault officers” when the arrest took place.

Sarah Everard (Family handout/PA)

/ PA Media

He accused her of ignoring instructions to leave the Common, and claimed he had been left with no choice but to enforce Tier 4 restrictions which had been imposed by the government. Inspector Dave Laurie said police knew a spontaneous vigil would take place that day, with the Duchess of Cambridge among those attending, and said officers moved to Covid enforcement when the crowd started to grow and they believed people were not paying their respects and leaving.

“I remember feeling sad that what started out as a vigil with people adhering to the coronavirus regulations had changed significantly and that I wasn’t convinced people were there to solely pay their respects in remembrance of Sarah Everard, and that they did not intend to leave the area any time soon”, he wrote in his witness statement.

The statements supporting the prosecutions are several pages long, but do not mention if officers considered the rights to freedom of assembly and speech before arrests were made.

The prosecutions took place behind closed doors on Wednesday last week in the Single Justice Procedure, which enables a magistrate sitting alone to conduct a mini-trial and pass sentence.

The court said no pleas or representations were received from Ms Al-Obeid, Mr Wheeler, and Mr Godin-Prior, and they were convicted in their absence.

They have been given 28-days to pay the fines and court costs or face further action including financial penalties and bailiff enforcement.

The cases were brought under the Health Protection regulations for participating in a gathering of more than two people in a public outdoor place in a Tier 4 area.

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