A judge has refused to intervene in a dispute over whether police should allow a vigil for Sarah Everard to take place on Saturday.
Police initially gave a “positive response” to the plans, but the women behind the event claim the Metropolitan Police later reversed its position because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Reclaim the Streets launched a legal challenge in the High Court to overturn the decision to ban Saturday’s event at Clapham Common, south London.
In his ruling, Mr Justice Holgate said the organisers had been told by police that the vigil “would be illegal” and that their “hands were tied” by COVID regulations.
The four claimants had also been warned they could be issued with £10,000 fixed penalty notices and might be arrested, the judge added.
He refused an application for “an interim declaration” that any ban on outdoor gatherings, under coronavirus regulations, is “subject to the right to protest”.
He also refused to declare that an alleged policy by the Met of “prohibiting all protests, irrespective of the specific circumstances”, is unlawful.
The judge ruled that “the requirements of the law have been clearly stated” in previous court rulings, including a challenge to COVID-19 lockdown rules brought by businessman Simon Dolan, which was dismissed by the Court of Appeal in December.
But he added that there may be “further communication” between the vigil organisers’ lawyers and Scotland Yard to discuss the “application of the regulations”.
Lana Adamou, a lawyer with the human rights group Liberty, said the judgment was “concerning”, adding: “Safe, socially distanced demonstrations are perfectly possible and it is the duty of the police to facilitate them, not block them.”
Following the decision at the High Court, a government spokesman said: “All of our thoughts are with Sarah’s family and friends at this terrible time, and the government recognises why so many women and girls across the country want to pay their respects.
“We are still in the middle of a pandemic, which is why we urge people to do this safely and to continue to avoid mass gatherings.
“We have also reopened our nationwide call for views on tackling violence against women and girls. So many have bravely shared their experiences over recent days and the government is listening.”
Earlier on Friday, detectives confirmed that human remains found in Ashford, Kent, on Wednesday are those of Ms Everard.
Asked about the case, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he had been “shocked and appalled”, and that the “whole country is united in feeling for her friends and family”.
Mr Johnson said he “totally understands why this has triggered such a wave of feeling on this issue of safety of women”.
A serving Met officer remains in custody at a London police station after being arrested on suspicion of kidnapping and murdering Ms Everard.
Assistant Commissioner Nick Ephgrave said: “I know that the public feel hurt and angry about what has happened, and those are sentiments that I share personally, and I know my colleagues here at Scotland Yard and across the Met share as well.
“I also recognise the wider concerns that have been raised, quite rightly, about the safety of women in public spaces in London and also elsewhere in the country.
“I want to say now that this organisation, and the men and women in it, remain committed to protecting Londoners wherever they are in this city.
“That commitment is undiminished by these events and, if anything, is strengthened by these tragic circumstances.”
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