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Don’t blame the police for failures


March 16, 2021. Writing for Conservative Home, Paul Goodman comments: There is a pincer movement on the Metropolitan Police in the wake of Saturday’s events on Clapham Common. On the one side of it is the anti-police left, powered by its adolescent reflex against authority. On the other is the anti-lockdown right, driven by its desire to minimise Covid restrictions, if not end them altogether.


They are far from the only interests with agendas. Labour has Priti Patel in its sights. The Conservatives – let’s face it – have Sadiq Khan. Those anti-lockdown campaigners’ real target is not so much the police as the Government, whose preferred instrument for maintaining public order during this pandemic was a special Coronavirus Act, not the Civil Contingencies Act (mistakenly, we believe).


Then there are the radical groups, such as Sisters Uncut. Patel has asked Sir Tom Winsor, the Chief Inspector of Constabulary, to carry out a “lessons learnt” review. Khan has asked him for a “full independent investigation” – and referred the Met to the Independent Office for Police Conduct.


The Liberal Democrats have called on Cressida Dick to resign. Keir Starmer hasn’t joined them. Boris Johnson is to chair a meeting of the Crime and Justice Taskforce today to explore what action needs to be taken to ensure women’s safety. He says that “like everyone who saw it I was deeply concerned about the footage from Clapham Common on Saturday night”.


He is right to be and, on the face of it, the police made the wrong decision. Dick says that the Coronavirus Act puts the police in a “very difficult position”. That’s true – but inherent in her words is the recognition that the police retain room for operational manoeuvre, which they exercised by eventually resolving to bar the vigil, a decision upheld in court.


Given the circumstances of Sarah Everard’s terrible death, the Met would have been wiser to let the vigil go ahead – rather than, by barring it, open themselves to the likelihood of pictures of women being, literally, manhandled by police officers being splashed all over new and old media.


Then again, the ban itself is one thing and the way the event was policed another. Dick has a point when she complains of armchair critics – and footage isn’t everything, as the Prime Minister would acknowledge. If you support an investigation, it follows that you should wait for it to report before reaching a conclusion about the events you want it to probe.