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UK drops prosecution of protesters over slain woman's vigil


LONDON (AP) — British authorities have quashed plans to prosecute protesters who attended a vigil for a murdered woman in breach of pandemic lockdown rules — a killing, and a response, that ignited a storm of criticism of the London police force and its attitude toward women’s safety.

The Crown Prosecution Service said Sunday that cases against six people over the March 2021 vigil in memory of Sarah Everard had been dropped because “our legal test for a prosecution was not met.”

The six had faced possible fines of up to 10,000 pounds ($12,100) for breaking COVID-19 restrictions in place at the time.

Everard, 33, was abducted, raped and killed as she walked home from a friend’s house in London. Her killer, Wayne Couzens, was a serving Metropolitan Police officer. He pleaded guilty to murder and is serving life in prison with no chance of parole.

Public anger at the police force for harboring a killer in its ranks was compounded by what many saw as heavy-handed policing of the subsequent vigil. Police banned the gathering because it breached coronavirus restrictions, but hundreds gathered anyway on Clapham Common, near where Everard was abducted. Prince William’s wife Kate was among those who attended and left flowers.

Scuffles broke out when police officers tried to break up the vigil after several hours.

Organizers took the police force to court, and in February a judge ruled that police acted unlawfully when they used coronavirus restrictions to ban the vigil.

Everard’s murder was one of a string of killings in London that prompted calls for more protection for women and girls. Allegations of misogyny and bungled investigations undermined confidence in the police and forced Metropolitan Police chief Cressida Dick to step down in February.

Pippa Woodrow, a lawyer for some of the defendants, said she was delighted “that this ordeal is over and that the (prosecution service) has recognized they should never have been prosecuted."

“It is to be hoped that the Met will now turn its focus and resources towards protecting women from violence rather than seeking to silence those who speak up against it, and towards rebuilding the trust damaged by their decisions in this case,” Woodrow told The Observer newspaper.