Instead, he insisted that they were simply trying to enforce the coronavirus legislation passed by Parliament to “protect the public in a health crisis” and had only acted after protesters responded to a request to disperse with hostility.
“I understand the emotion involved but the officers acted as they did because they thought they were doing the right thing,” Sir Stephen told City Hall’s police and crime committee today.
Some demonstrators threw water bottles at police as calls were made for action to stop violence against women and for the rejection of measures in the Government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to impose new controls on static protests.
Discussing the police action in Clapham, Sir Stephen said: “I understand that their actions have upset people, but the officers took their action believing they were doing the right thing to protect people’s health. They were following legislation put in place by Parliament to protect the public in the middle of a health crisis so I can’t apologise for my officers.
“I’m sorry of course that people are so upset at seeing officers enforcing legislation but the officers were doing their duty as they saw it.”
He added: “We certainly didn’t want to see a vigil in the memory of Sarah end in the scenes that we saw on Saturday night. We fully understand the strength of feeling.”
He said: “I know I speak on behalf of all of our officers and staff when I say how appalled we are at what happened.
“There’s a real sense of disbelief, of anger and betrayal in this organisation. This is not what this organisation stands for.
“My confidence in the Met remains but this action, this abhorrent action by this individual, does not in any way, shape or form characterise the organisation that I know.”
Sir Stephen’s comments came as a new poll showed that a majority of the public back the Met’s decision to break up the Clapham Common vigil.
The YouGov survey, commissioned by the criminal justice consultancy Crest Advisory, showed that 53 per cent of people questioned nationwide thought police were right to intervene and arrest protesters who refused to leave.
Only 32 per cent thought the force was wrong. However, support was lower among Londoners sampled in the poll with 44 per cent backing the Met’s actions.
Women, of whom exactly half supported breaking up the vigil, were slightly less supportive than men, where backing stood at 56 per cent in the survey, which sampled 1,672 adults.
Young people were the only age group to oppose Scotland Yard’s decision to bring the vigil to a halt with 46 per cent saying the police were wrong and only 30 per cent supportive.
The results come despite the outcry from women’s safety campaigners and politicians about the violence which have prompted Home Secretary Priti Patel to order an inquiry.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan has also voiced his concern amid calls from some for the Met Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick to resign. She has rejected the demands and received support from the Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Meanwhile, as debate continued about how to improve women’s safety, the policing minister Kit Malthouse suggested that as well as parents, teachers could help to improve attitudes by instilling the importance of respect in relationship and sex education lessons.
The 48-year-old Metropolitan Police officer will next appear in custody for a plea hearing on July 9, while a provisional trial date has been set for October 25.
It is alleged he snatched 33-year-old Ms Everard as she walked home from a friend’s house in Clapham during the evening of March 3. She was reported missing by her boyfriend the following day, and her remains were discovered in woodland in Ashford, Kent, on March 10.