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Cressida Dick faces backlash after claiming Duchess of Cambridge 'was working' when she laid flowers at Sarah Everard vigil

Rebecca Taylor
·Royal Correspondent
·5-min read

Watch: Was Kate ‘working’ when she visited the Sarah Everard vigil?

The Duchess of Cambridge was "working" when she laid flowers in memory of murdered Sarah Everard, and so was not breaking COVID laws, the Metropolitan Police commissioner has said.

Kate, 39, attended Clapham Common bandstand at around 4.30pm on 13 March, after organisers of a vigil to remember the marketing executive cancelled their planned gathering.

The visit was not announced in advance but a Sky News reporter spotted her brief visit and filmed her there.

She let it be known afterward that she "remembers what it felt like to walk around London at night before she got married". 

Her visit is not recorded in the Court Circular, which lists all the Royal Family's official engagements.

The vigil that evening, which was not related to original organisers Reclaim These Streets, who swapped to an online event, was attended by hundreds who defied the police's and organisers' requests to stay at home. 

There were clashes throughout the evening between people and police, and London mayor Sadiq Khan said the police response was "at times neither appropriate nor proportionate". 

A report from the police watchdog Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) determined that officers were not heavy-handed, and said they remained "calm and professional" throughout.

Britain's Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (R) speaks to health workers as she visits the coronavirus vaccination centre at Westminster Abbey, central London on March 23, 2021, to pay tribute to the efforts of those involved in the Covid-19 vaccine rollout. (Photo by Aaron Chown / POOL / AFP) (Photo by AARON CHOWN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
The Duchess of Cambridge (R) speaks to health workers at the coronavirus vaccination centre at Westminster Abbey, later in March. (Aaron Chown/AFP)

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Of the Duchess of Cambridge's visit, the report said: "The Silver Commander learnt of her visit only when it was reported by Sky News.

"While we understand that it may be the tactic of protection teams to minimise pre-warning of VIPs’ movements, this is a matter of concern."

Of Kate, Cressida Dick told Radio 4's Today programme: "She's in the course of her duties, she was working.

"At that point, people had a whole series of potential reasonable excuses for being away from home, we didn't all have them for everything, I've picked out one that may well apply to her.

"There was a very calm vigil which she attended, where lots and lots of people came – the vigil itself, started off in a socially distanced manner."

Watch: Reclaim These Streets organiser reacts to Clapham report

Pressed on the visit in light of Dick's own comments that she would have attended the vigil "if it was legal", the commissioner said: "What we knew and what Matt Parr [who led the HMICFRS inspection team] said it was quite clear that whatever the organisers wanted to arrange, the numbers were going to be overwhelming, there was not an ability in the long run to keep this COVID safe or in fact strictly legal, and finally, we knew some of the people coming were going to want a mass rally where they would come together in mass numbers.

"That part needed to be dispersed and that's what the officers dispersed."

She added: "It was clearly possible under the law for someone who lived locally to walk as many did and lay flowers legally.

"There are other reasons why other people might be in the area and they could have laid flowers calmly and peacefully, and you will see for six hours we did not enforce any laws."

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick during a visit to Wembley Stadium, north London, where officers from the Metropolitan Police are being trained to assist the London Ambulance Service. (Photo by Jonathan Brady/PA Images via Getty Images)
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick, in January. She has faced a backlash over the report into the Everard vigil. (Jonathan Brady/PA Images)

Anna Soubry, former MP, tweeted: "Listening to #CressidaDick on #Today & profoundly disagree with her. She should have allowed the vigil for Sarah Everard & worked with the organisers to police it safely. 

"As soon as it was banned it was bound to attract other elements & descend in to an unseemly PR disaster."

ITV's royal correspondent Chris Ship tweeted: "If it was a “private visit” as we were told by @KensingtonRoyal, how can it be classed as a “work” ??"

Nazir Azfal, former chief prosecutor, said: "The Duchess of Cambridge was 'working' says the Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick when she attended the Clapham Common vigil maskless before the police stepped into stop the vigil itself.

"I’m sure the instruction was to 'Work from Home' at that time."

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The regulations for working from home apply to those who can do so, and Royal Family members have been able to carry out some duties in person under the regulations.

Barrister Adam Wagner tweeted: "Personally, I doubt the vigil was unlawful during the day but if it was the Duchess would have been a participant in a gathering of over 30 people and therefore acting unlawfully.

"If eg there is a house party with over 30 people and the Duchess attends as a work visit I am dubious that would be a defence.

"But here’s the key point: the reason the Commissioner had to come up with this was to avoid saying the vigil during the day was lawful which contradicts her point that no version of the vigil could have been lawful."

Kensington Palace has been contacted for comment.