The chief constable of Sussex has defended the policing of the vigil in Brighton for murdered Sarah Everard.
Jo Shiner said that Sussex Police could have handled the event “more sensitively” during a virtual “performance and accountability meeting” with police and crime commissioner Katy Bourne.
But, the chief constable said, the way officers had acted was fair and proportionate and the vast majority of people supported the approach taken.
However, the Labour MP for Brighton Kemptown, Lloyd Russell-Moyle, was critical, saying that the event had required compassion and sensitivity.
And at least one of the scores of people who went along to the event in Valley Gardens, in Brighton, accused the police of using unjustified force.
One man was arrested and eight other people were fined – with fixed penalty notices – at the vigil on Saturday 13 March.
Ms Shiner said: “Could we and should we have policed that event differently and more sensitively?
“On reflection, having listened to feedback, I think there is a balance that we could have done that.
“It would be wrong of us not to listen to those perceptions.
“But we must balance that with the vast majority of the public feedback that actually supported the way in which we policed it.”
Mrs Bourne said that people had written to her to express their concerns after the vigil.
She added: “Equally, we’ve had others who have said how amazed they are of the tolerance the officers showed.”
The chief constable said that the vigil started as a peaceful gathering but became much more animated, with some people aiming “exceptionally offensive chants” at police.
Mrs Bourne said: “I have been in regular contact with our chief constable since last weekend and I have been reassured that the majority of people who attended the vigils adhered to the social distancing and gathering rules which have helped drive covid levels down.
“Throughout this pandemic, Sussex Police’s sympathetic approach has been supported by local people.
“But, where individuals choose not to respect lawful behaviour, officers have a duty to act with discretion and enforce the law if necessary.
“Out of the hundreds of people who were gathered over the weekend there was just one arrest and eight fixed penalty notices issued.
“We must look at the evidence and the facts before making judgments about the police handling of a sensitive situation during very difficult times when feelings are running understandably high.”
The chief constable also said: “It is important to remember that we are still in the midst of a global pandemic and the police have a job to do to help reduce the risk of the spread of this virus.
“Officers took no action as people came to peacefully pay their respects, even when they gathered to do so.
“However, once the two-metre guidance was broken and the crowds began to be offensive towards our officers, enforcement was taken as a last resort where engagement and encouragement did not work.
“I do believe that any action taken was proportionate and fair. Out of the six protests which have occurred in Sussex, we’ve only made two arrests.
“However, public order policing is challenging and getting the right balance is not easy. Our policing approach has been consistent throughout the pandemic.
“But I can completely understand public perception at this time and we will listen and try to better understand any concerns.
“We continue to learn from everything we do in policing and I have conducted an internal review.”
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