Britain’s most senior police officer has suggested the visit by the Duchess of Cambridge to the Sarah Everard vigil was legal because she was working, even though the trip was private and not an official engagement.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that it was possible under the law to attend the event and that officers had allowed the March 13 vigil to continue for six hours without intervening.
It was after around 6pm that crowds of hundreds of people gathered near the bandstand on Clapham Common in south London to listen to speakers and refused to leave when asked by police, leading to clashes between officers and protesters.
Referring to Kate’s visit, Dame Cressida told the broadcaster: “She’s in the course of her duties, she was working.”
She added: “At that point people had a whole series of potential reasonable excuses for being away from home, we didn’t all have them.
“I’ve picked out one that may apply to her but, let’s be clear, there was a very calm vigil to which she attended where lots and lots of people came.”
The duchess’s visit was not listed in the Court Circular – the daily list of royal engagements – so it was not an official engagement.
A private visit can constitute a royal duty, but it would still usually be listed in the Court Circular.
The Commissioner said: “It was clearly possible under the law for somebody who lived locally to walk, as many did, and lay flowers legally; there are other reasons why people might be in the area and they could have laid flowers calmly and peacefully, potentially legally.
“You would have seen for six hours we did not enforce any laws, we showed some discretion and we allowed people to carry on.”
The duchess’s London base is Kensington Palace – which is more than four miles from the Clapham Common bandstand – and she is reported to have arrived by car.
Legally there was no specific distance members of the public were allowed to travel from their homes under lockdown laws.
The position on vigils or protests was that police were expected to look at each individual event and weigh up the public health risks with the right to protest and freedom of expression involved.
A report on the handling of the vigil published on Tuesday revealed that the silver police commander on the ground was not warned that Kate would be visiting.
Dame Cressida told the BBC that the force had known about the trip but said: “We take all sorts of precautions to make sure that we don’t unwittingly draw attention to visits like that.”