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Planned vigil for Sarah Everard hangs in the balance after High Court ruling

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A planned vigil for Sarah Everard hangs in the balance after a High Court judge refused to make a declaration regarding the right to gather for protest under coronavirus restrictions.

Organisers of the proposed Reclaim These Streets event in south London on Saturday say the Metropolitan Police told them it could not go ahead due to lockdown rules.

They brought urgent legal action on Friday, asking Mr Justice Holgate to make “an interim declaration” that any ban on outdoor gatherings under coronavirus regulations is “subject to the right to protest”.

But the judge declined to grant the group’s request and also refused to make a declaration that an alleged policy by the force of “prohibiting all protests, irrespective of the specific circumstances” is unlawful.

Reclaim These Streets was organised after the disappearance of Ms Everard, 33, whose body was formally identified by police on Friday, prompted a public outcry about women’s safety.

The event was due to take place at Clapham Common bandstand, close to where Ms Everard went missing, at 6pm on Saturday.

Sarah Everard missing / PA Wire

At the outset of Friday’s hearing, the judge said: “All of us appreciate the tragic circumstances in which this case has had to be brought and I am sure we all respect the particular sensitivities involved.”

In his ruling, he said the organisers were told by police that “the vigil would be illegal and that their ‘hands were tied’ by Covid-19 regulations”.

The judge added that the four claimants “were told that, as organisers, they would be liable to be issued with £10,000 fixed penalty notices”, and could also be arrested.

Mr Justice Holgate said it would not be “appropriate for the court” to make the declaration sought.

He 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.

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