Mourners including the Duchess of Cambridge visited a memorial for London murder victim Sarah Everard on Saturday as police warned that vigils to pay tribute and to protest about violence against women would breach COVID-19 restrictions.
A palace official said Kate, wife of Prince William, “remembers what it was like to walk around London at night before she was married”.
Later on Saturday as night fell, around a thousand people – mostly women – gathered at the site to pay their respects and protest at the lack of security they felt when out alone, with some chanting “shame on you” at police who were present.
Police told organizers of events planned in London and around the country to pay tribute to Everard that public gatherings would be in breach of COVID-19 restrictions and could lead to fines up to 10,000 pounds ($14,000).
Organizers at Reclaim These Streets said they had canceled a vigil on Clapham Common in south London near where Everard, 33, was last seen. Numerous other planned vigils around the country also followed suit and canceled.
Dozens of women and men still went to Clapham Common to leave flowers, letters and drawings at a memorial to Everard, standing in silence with the occasional sound of sobbing as several police officers looked on.
Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, was filmed among those who visited a bandstand where tributes were left.
“Rest in peace Sarah. You could have been any of us. I hope you get justice,” read one sign placed atop flowers.
“It feels like we finally have people’s attention, so it was important for me to be here in spite of the ban (on the vigil) and honor Sarah’s memory,” said Hannah, 29, who asked not to use her full name.
“Groping, insults, being followed … literally every woman I know has experienced this,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
With vigils banned, other women and campaign groups arranged online events and doorstep tributes for Everard, whose killing has sparked widespread anger and fear about women’s safety.
Everard, a marketing executive, disappeared while walking home from a friend’s house at about 9.30pm on March 3. Her body was later found in woods about 50 miles away in southeast England.
London police officer Wayne Couzens, 48, appeared in court on Saturday charged with her kidnap and murder.
Her killing has led many women to share their fears of walking alone and experiences of being harassed or attacked by men in public, with calls for more action to be taken to address violence against women and abuse.
Reclaim These Streets said it would be hosting an online meeting and asked supporters around the country to take part in a doorstep tribute with candles and lights.
Currently England is in a national lockdown to stem the coronavirus pandemic and people cannot leave or be outside of their homes except with a “reasonable excuse” and can only be outside with one other person.
But some women called for defiance.
“To all those still thinking of heading to Clapham Common at 6pm tonight: we will be there! Please bring your sadness and your rage,” said anti-abuse campaign group Sisters Uncut in a post on Twitter.
“Police can ban a mass vigil or protest march but can’t stop people walking on their own or as two. Would suggest that all those that can could take a short walk tonight … ” said another user in a post hashtagged #vigilforSarah.
London’s Metropolitan police faced criticism over enforcing the ban, with Reclaim These Streets saying the vigil would have been safe and legal.
“We take no joy in this event being canceled, but it is the right thing to do given the real and present threat of COVID-19,” Commander Catherine Roper, the Met’s lead for community engagement, said in a statement.