Paddick on Clapham Common vigil report whitewash

I have been taking some flack on social media after the publication of the conclusions of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary Fire and Rescue Services’ inspection of the policing of the Sarah Everard vigil at Clapham Common. Ed Davey had called for the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police to resign over the policing of the event, but the headlines from the HMICFRS report exonerated the police.

The scenes we all saw of the police using force against those at the Clapham Common vigil were entirely foreseeable, preventable and unnecessary.

The Clapham Common vigil came a few days after HMICFRS published a report into the policing of protests generally. HMICFRS confirmed this week that a whistle-blower had complained that the report showed repeated bias in favour of the police and against peaceful protestors, backing the Government clampdown on protests proposed in the controversial Police, Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill. As a result, the whistle-blower feared the inspection of the policing of the Clapham Common vigil would be a whitewash. Was she right?

The HMICFRS report into the Clapham Common vigil says the police repeatedly misinterpreted the COVID regulations, wrongly believing any protests during the (Tier 4) lockdown would be unlawful. Legally, the vigil could have gone ahead.

The report says the local authority believed a plan could have been put in place for a safe and peaceful event. They believed cancelling would increase the risk factors, that there was a strong likelihood of a disorganised gathering with no safety measures in place, and that there was potential for things to go wrong. As the organisers did not get any reassurance from the police that they would not be prosecuted if the vigil went ahead, they pulled-out.

HMICFRS says, on the day, the police assessed the risk of public disorder as low. Despite intelligence suggesting that some were planning to attend to cause trouble, there were no plans to identify and stop them. Even when Piers Corbyn, whose campaign against COVID-19 restrictions encourages “You resist, you defy, you do not comply”, was seen heading to the common with 20 supporters, the police Silver Commander did nothing other than note it in the log.

The report says that from 2pm until 5.45pm the police Bronze Commander, in charge of the officers on the ground, was not at Clapham Common. The Gold and Silver Commanders in the control room several miles away thought there were 200 people at a sombre vigil, but when the Bronze Commander got there, a man using a microphone and loudspeaker set-up on the bandstand was shouting “the police are oppressing us, they are murderers” at a crowd of 1,500. The crowd shouted him down and a minute’s silence was held at 6pm.

Those attending were then asked to disperse but some remained. After only 30 minutes, the Silver Commander ordered enforcement action as “The initial attempts to go through 3 E’s [engaging, explaining, encouraging] have been unsuccessful.”

These are the facts taken from the report that then exonerates the police.

The police could and should have negotiated a COVID-compliant vigil, which, even on the night before, the local authority believed was still possible. They should have acted on the intelligence that troublemakers were going to try to disrupt the peaceful vigil, but they took no action. The police could and should have prevented a public address system being set up, which drew crowds and was hijacked by those intent on causing trouble.

I was in the police for over 30 years, and an Advanced Trained Public Order senior officer with vast experience of policing events. The author of the HMICFRS report is a retired Royal Navy Rear Admiral. In my opinion, the scenes we all saw of the police using force against those at the Clapham Common vigil were entirely foreseeable, preventable and unnecessary.

That should have been the conclusion of the HMICFRS report, based on the facts contained in their own report. I think the whistle-blower’s fears have been realised.

* Brian Paddick Is Liberal Democrat spokesperson on Home Affairs. He was Deputy Assistant Commissioner in London's Metropolitan Police Service until 2007, the Lib Dem candidate for the London mayoral election in 2008 and 2012, and a life peer since 2013. He is joint President of LGBT+ Lib Dems.

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29 Comments

  • Brad Barrows 3rd Apr '21 - 8:31am

    Sorry but while I concede that the author is an expect in this field, I respectfully disagree with his conclusion. The policing of events or demonstrations should be consistent whatever their cause or issue – we can not expect police to take a different line when we happen to agree with the cause of the demonstrators or where the crowd is predominately female rather than male. For this reason, I was not surprised by the findings of the investigation.

  • Brian Paddick 3rd Apr '21 - 8:51am

    Hi Brad. The High Court decided that the police could not adopt a blanket approach to protests. Each has to be evaluated on the facts. That is the same conclusion HMICFRS came to. It’s not just my opinion.

  • Brad Barrows 3rd Apr '21 - 8:56am

    hi Brian. Thanks for replying. I understand the issue of ‘not taking a blanket approach to protests’ but I believe that is on the basis that each protest should be assessed on the risks each poses rather than on the cause they espouse. Please correct me if I am wrong on this.

  • Brian Paddick 3rd Apr '21 - 9:06am

    Yes of course. I haven’t suggested the vigil should have gone ahead on the basis of what the cause was. The assessment of the local authority, also experienced in managing protests, believed it would have been safer to let the vigil go ahead, not because of what the vigil was about. I agree.

  • Brian – nice that you’re responding to the comments on here. But is there not a danger that, if each protest is assessed individually as to whether it should go ahead, then you put the police in the impossible situation where as soon as they decide to allow any one protest, every other group that wants to protest will be very loudly shouting ‘But you allowed that protest to go ahead, so it’s unfair/discrimination/whatever not to allow our protest!’

  • Jenny Barnes 3rd Apr '21 - 2:39pm

    A “flack” is a publicity agent, probably USAnian. “FLAK” is an acronym for the german for anti-aircraft cannon – hence metaphorically “flak” for generalised abuse.

  • @Simon R – But is there not a danger that, if each protest is assessed individually as to whether it should go ahead, then you put the police in the impossible situation…
    So what should the standard response be?
    Assume all protests are likely to get out of hand like the anarchy protests in London?
    No it is right that each protest should be assessed individually, however that assessment should be the responsibility of the local authority – who take advice from the police and thus be public. This process mirroring that of any other large public event (eg. sports event) that is likely to attract large crowds.

    It is noteworthy that the Conservative government in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021, have only focused on increasing police powers over ‘protests’ rather than local authority powers over ‘event’ and gatherings; probably because the Conservatives are attracted to the idea of having a (tame) political police force.

  • John Marriott 3rd Apr '21 - 4:20pm

    My concern, with all types of protest – and I include vigils here as well – is that they can all be hijacked by more malevolent elements, whose aim is to disrupt and cause mayhem. In an ideal world, everyone would have done as they were told. Any gatherings of the sort seen on Clapham Common were supposedly not allowed under so called ‘COVID regulations’. They should not have gone ahead, period. But they did, and continue to and continue to be badly handled.

    My only other observation will not go down well with the PC brigade. The beautiful young lady, whose life was so cruelly taken away and in whose name the vigil was held, was white. Where were the vigils when two black fun loving sisters of a similar age were cruelly murdered not that long ago and, to add insult to injury, pictures of the crime scene were apparently posted by police officers on social media?

  • Brian Paddick 3rd Apr '21 - 5:42pm

    Simon R. I get where you’re coming from but the law is the law, tested in the High Court, which says the human rights of freedom of assembly, freedom of association and freedom of speech need to be balanced against the danger to public health.

    Masked, socially-distanced protests are unlikely to tip the balance against those human rights. Protests involving large numbers of unmasked anti-lockdown protesters squeezed together are likely to be illegal.

  • Brian Paddick 3rd Apr '21 - 5:55pm

    John M. Peaceful protests are sometimes hijacked by extremists. Not only was there intelligence this might be the case but a known agitator was seen heading for the common in this case, with 20 of his followers, but the police did nothing to ‘head them off’.

    HMICFRS point out a number of times in their report that the police wrongly interpreted the law as meaning all protests were illegal under lockdown (Level 4). The High Court made clear this was not the case.

    Absolutely right about the difference in reaction between the tragic Sarah Everard case and the tragic murder of Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry. That’s why the Black Lives Matter campaign is so important.

  • Brian Paddick 3rd Apr '21 - 5:59pm

    Jenny B. Thanks for the clarification. I’ve never used the term ‘flak’ before. I should have checked before posting.

  • John Marriott 3rd Apr ’21 – 4:20pm, Brian Paddick 3rd Apr ’21 – 5:55pm…

    I get annoyed when, as a supporter of BLM protests, I’m told how ‘white deaths don’t get the same attention’…

    Your post is equally just ‘whataboutery’.

  • John Marriott 4th Apr '21 - 9:37am

    @expats
    I’m really not sure where you are coming from. Equally, I’m too old to know what your precise definition of ‘whataboutery’ is. You can add ‘woke’ to the list as well.

    I think I know what the initials BLM stand for. My problem is that I would prefer ALM (ALL lives matter); but that has apparently been hijacked by the far right, so I’ll stick with the original.

    If you are referring to my second paragraph, my observation, of which, given your stance on BLM, I thought you might have approved and with which Brian Paddick appeared to agree, was to compare the public reaction, legal or not, to the murder of a white girl compared with the reaction – or lack of it – to the recent murders of two black girls with, in both cases, an element of police involvement. Now, if you have any issue with that I am sorry.

  • @expats. And what is the problem with “Whataboutery” is it points out an inconsistency in the actions or thoughts if a particular group ?

  • John Marriott 4th Apr ’21 – 9:37am…My definition of “Whataboutery” is exemplified in your…”Where were the vigils when two black fun loving sisters of a similar age were cruelly murdered not that long ago”

    Chris Cory 4th Apr ’21 – 9:42am…The problem of “Whataboutery” is that it’s an attempt to deflect/belittle the original argument…If (a) is ‘wrong’ pointing out that (b) is wrong doesn’t make (a) any more ‘right’..

  • Tony Harris 4th Apr '21 - 11:13am

    A very useful summary and backgrounder Brian. Unfortunately we live in an era of the ‘Teflon Government’ led by the ‘Teflon PM’. I really think there is nothing that BoJo could not stoop to, even on live TV, and then ‘draw a line under it’. Interestingly enough, according to ONS (https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/datasets/appendixtableshomicideinenglandandwales) there were 694 homicides in GB 19/20 of which 506 victims were male and 188 were female. I’m really surprised that it is that high. The ONS has published stats which show that 443 of these were white, 105 were black, and 56 were Asian. The rest were ‘not recorded’ in terms of ethnicity. As far as I can see, what they don’t tell you is what % of male and female homicides were black/ethnic although Brian may have this number.

  • Thanks Brian for the article. Very interesting.
    I’m surprised by the comments that show not only illiberal attitudes to protest, but a lack of understanding of how protests are assessed for being allowed or not.
    It’s worth noting that most have ignored the key point running through your article which is that the report is based on a series selective facts and ignoring the wider failings of both the police on the ground and officers in the control room.
    What was also lacking was the heavy-handed nature of the arrest process which saw predominantly females – who attended – being cuffed on the ground and released after only being required to give names and addresses so that they could be sent a summons for a fine.

  • Brian Paddick 4th Apr '21 - 2:26pm

    I feel the need to emphasise that I do not believe black lives are as valued as white lives with respect to homicides (or more generally but that would really take us off topic!)

    Tony, the most worrying thing for me, taking both HMICFRS reports together, is that a so-called independent inspectorate does not appear to be acting independently. I don’t have any numbers at my fingertips but I understand young black men are disproportionately victims of homicide.

    Andrew in my opinion, the officers on the ground were placed in an impossible position having been let down by their bosses. The senior officers were ineffective in preventing infiltration by troublemakers, they were ineffective in preventing a public address system being set-up that acted as a focal point and they were unsighted on how the situation was escalating. They then made the wrong decision to rapidly move to dispersal by force when on balance, an alternative strategy could have been adopted e.g. a former colleague and expert on public order said he would have advised standing back and letting the crowd attack the police, if that is what the troublemakers were intent on doing.

    I cannot see how police intervention at that time and in that way prevented people from being infected by COVID-19, which was the reason the police gave for breaking-up the vigil by force.

  • Tony Harris 4th Apr '21 - 9:47pm

    Hi Brian

    Thanks but as far as i can see, the ONS stats do not bear out the premise that ‘young black men are disproportionately victims of homicide.’ Of 694 homicides in 2019/20 only 105 (15%) were black as opposed to 443 (63%) white (the rest Asian). Looking at women versus men, 188 homicides were women (27%) and 506 were men (72%). It’s annoying that the numbers don’t break down white and black men and women. Obviously we will have to see what the 2020/21 numbers say. Maybe you could suggest that the ONS report the numbers in a more granular fashion? See the link in my last note.

  • Under the health measures we are constantly told we cannot hold public gatherings. Vigils and protests are mass public gatherings. Personally, I support the right to hold vigils and protests. However, under the restrictions on liberty parliament has imposed on society a vigil is a mass public gathering and therefor illegal. Parliament has also given the government permission for this kind of thing to continue for at least another 6 months. Until that ends then the complaints ring hollow.

  • Daniel Walker 5th Apr '21 - 6:55am

    @Tony Harris “ Of 694 homicides in 2019/20 only 105 (15%) were black

    Black people do not form even close to 15% of the general population (It’s about 3.3%), Tony, so your figures absolutely bear out that they are disproportionately affected by homicide (assuming the overall skew towards young and male is borne out in the population of black homicide victims, which I see no reason to doubt)

    @Glenn “Vigils and protests are mass public gatherings

    They are, but they are also legal. Brian points out the report says as much in his 4th paragraph.

  • Daniel Walker
    That’s picking and choosing. The big moral argument for the health measures is that they are saving lives. If you believe this, I do not, the cause is irrelevant. I support the vigil and supported the BLM protests. I do not support the covid measure of social distancing and lockdowns so I do not have to pretend that a good cause makes any difference to the virus. Whereas, if you believe it’s right for the police and ministers to dictate everything from where you can see your own family, shopping, funerals, weddings, and so on then you should support them when they disperse other public gatherings. I don’t. In this instance the police intervened as part of the health measures our representatives in parliament overwhelmingly support and recently voted to extend! They were found to have acted in accordance to those health measures.

  • John Marriott 5th Apr '21 - 1:08pm

    “Kill the Bill” is an interesting title for a movement. Clearly influenced by Quentin Tarantino’s film ‘Kill Bill’, I wonder how many people joined the movement and subsequent protest marches because they feared an attack on their human rights and how many joined in because of their hatred of the police aka ‘the Bill’?

  • This kind of comment is just baffling:
    “,“Kill the Bill” is an interesting title for a movement. Clearly influenced by Quentin Tarantino’s film ‘Kill Bill’, I wonder how many people joined the movement and subsequent protest marches because they feared an attack on their human rights and how many joined in because of their hatred of the police aka ‘the Bill’?”

    Kill the Bill is a US refrain used over many decades and adpoted in the UK for Killing a ‘Bill’ (the White Paper presented to lawmakers in the Commons) in this case the ‘The Police, Crime and Sentencing BILL 2021’.
    ‘Kill the Bill’ has nothing to do with the police (the ‘Bill’) and there is nothing in the protests against it inspired by Tarantino’s film franchise.

  • Brian,
    Whilst I take your point about the difficult position the police were in, thedecision to kettleinitially was counter-productive to the idea of reducing risk of both the spread of Covid and attack by protestors.
    I think it was extremely poor judgement on the part of officers and indcative of a force with very narrow thinking on how policing should be applied in matter like these. Vigil attendees could have been given the opportunity to opt for a fixed time and dispersal plan to reduce the proximity of those attending and to get home peacefully.
    The attendance by Piers Corbyn and his cronies should have been dealt with separately and in fact, police should be investigating after the event, his attempt to disrupt and cause trouble.

  • Tony Harris 5th Apr '21 - 4:45pm

    @Daniel Walker: WOW! those are 2011 figures! Will be interesting to see what the latest census tell us. Unfortunately you can’t really compare a 2019/20 set of figures against a 2011 set of figures.

  • Daniel Walker 6th Apr '21 - 9:07am

    @Tony “Unfortunately you can’t really compare a 2019/20 set of figures against a 2011 set of figures.

    As you no doubt know, the 2011 Census is the most recent data available, as the 2021 census is still being collected. However, I absolutely can compare the 2011 population data to the 2019/20 homicide data because it is unreasonable to suggest that a 2011 population of 3.3% has increased to anything like 15%: The UK population in 2011 was 63,285,100, and in 2019 it was 67,195,769, an increase of 3.9m. Even if every single one of those 3.9m people were Black, which is obviously not the case, that would still only be just under 9% of the 2019 population, and 15% would still be disproportionate.

    So Brian was correct, and you should withdraw your remark.

  • Tony Harris 6th Apr '21 - 11:14am

    @Daniel: Remember that we are also talking about a second set of variables here. i.e. homicides. In 2002 these peaked at just over 1,000 and then dropped to just over half that in 2010/11. Since then the linear trend has actually been upwards as has the moving average (although still lower than 02/03). The other problem is that although we know the homicide stats for % of black, white, and Asian, and we know the homicide stats for % of men and women, annoyingly, it doesn’t list the % of black/white/Asian men or women (unless i have missed this?). One ONS stat that is relevant to this discussion is that the average rates per million are 9.4 (white) 49.5 (black) and 13.0 (other). So, if you take the rates per million then the numbers for black people in general are indeed worryingly high. However, we still can’t say ‘black men’ because the ONS don’t break it out that way. You might apply their overall black V white homicide percentages against the rates per million as some sort of weighting but I’m not convinced that would be a statistically accurate thing to do (unless you know better?). So i would say, the verdict is still out until we get the next census figures (should be much quicker this time) and the next year of homicide figures (particularly if Brian could ask the ONS to break the gender out).

  • John Marriott 7th Apr '21 - 12:22pm

    @Andrew
    So, from what you are saying, perhaps Tarantino got the title for his film from that old US slogan you quote.

    Now…. my reference to ‘The Bill’ was a rather lame way of drawing attention to some of the more unsavoury elements who have been on parade at the recent marches/vigils/ sit ins/demonstrations. Judging by their lack of affection for the police I imagine that, if a few officers actually paid the ultimate price, they wouldn’t shed a tear. That might sound abhorrent; but, believe me, there are some VERY dangerous people out there.

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