No guarantee from government that police won't disperse Reclaim the Streets vigils despite approach to Rangers fans

The Scottish Government has said it cannot guarantee planned candlelight vigils in Scotland in memory of Sarah Everard will not be dispersed by police.

Answering questions at the Scottish Government’s daily coronavirus briefing on Friday, health secretary Jeane Freeman said it would be “inappropriate” for her or any politician to seek to direct how the police operate on any matter.

Ms Freeman was asked whether she, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon or clinical advisers would ask the police to avoid dispersing the gatherings planned given Police Scotland’s decision not to do so with the large groups of Rangers fans last weekend.

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The celebrations from the football club’s fans in Glasgow were criticised sharply by Ms Sturgeon and other politicians this week.

Police arrive at the Ibrox Stadium as fans gather to celebrate Rangers winning the Scottish Premiership title.
Police arrive at the Ibrox Stadium as fans gather to celebrate Rangers winning the Scottish Premiership title.

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Responding, Ms Freeman said: “The police will take the operational decisions that they think are right to take and it would be entirely wrong of me or any politician to direct them in any way or ask them to something in particular in any way.

"They need to be able to take those operational decisions independently.

"My focus is on saying to the women, who will want to show how they feel, and they might be tempted to do that by that public gathering – please don’t do that.

"Please use other means to make your voice heard, light that candle, use digital means, use other means to make your voice heard.

"Write to your MSP, write to your MP, get involved in that way and when the time is right – and by right I mean we have suppressed the virus to sufficiently low levels that public gatherings outside are possible – then we will come together and make sure our voices are heard.”

The candlelight vigils, as part of the wider ‘Reclaim These Streets’ protests, are to be held in memory of Ms Everard, who went missing last week in London and was confirmed dead on Friday.

A serving police officer, Wayne Couzens, 48, was arrested in connection with her disappearance. He was later arrested on suspicion of murder.

Events are planned to take place at Holyrood at 6pm on Saturday involving speeches, stories and poems from survivors of sexual harassment, with a separate silent gathering to take place at St Andrew Square at the same time.

Another vigil in Glasgow is also planned.

In London, organisers of a vigil in response to the disappearance of Ms Everard are taking legal action after claiming police reversed a decision on allowing the event to go ahead.

Organisers said there had been an “about-face” by the Metropolitan Police and they were told Saturday’s Reclaim These Streets event would not be permitted due to the coronavirus lockdown.

The group said in a statement on Thursday evening that it would seek an order in the High Court on Friday, challenging the force’s interpretations of Covid-19 restrictions when read against human rights law.

Downing Street said Prime Minister Boris Johnson “completely understands the strength of feeling” around Ms Everard’s disappearance, but urged people to abide by coronavirus restrictions.

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