Hundreds of Hackney residents attended a vigil held for Sarah Everard in London Fields, despite police advising against large gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Sarah Everard went missing on March 3 while walking from Clapham to her house in Brixton, and her body was found in Kent a week later.

At 6pm on March 14, people spread out in the park outside London Fields lido in front of a banner which read: "Remembering Means Fighting."

They held candles and phone lights – showing solidarity and silently protesting for the safety of women.

Among those paying their respects was Grace, who did not share her last name.

She said it is “ridiculous” the police had cancelled vigils around London “considering what has happened”.

%image(15011106, type="article-full", alt="Woman attending the London Fields vigil for Sarah Everard holds up a sign which reads: "Girls just want to have fundamental human rights."")

Feyzi Ismail, a Hackney resident was at the London Fields vigil, said “not going was not an option” for her – even after it was cancelled.

She said: "It could have been any of us."

The police advice was issued following a High Court judgment, and with Cmdr Catherine Roper reiterating the risk of Covid infections.

%image(15011108, type="article-full", alt="People lighting candles and paying tribute to Sarah Everard.")

Before the Reclaim These Streets events took place across the UK, Cmdr Roper said: "Our message to those who were looking to attend vigils in London this weekend, including at Clapham Common, is stay at home or find a lawful way to express your views."

%image(15011109, type="article-full", alt="A mourner scrawls Reclaim The Streets into a concrete path in London Fields park. Her words echo the name of the group, Reclaim These Streets, which first organised the vigils but then cancelled them following police advice.")

However, many donned masks and marched to the London Fields vigil to pay their respects in defiance of the police ban.

Half an hour into the vigil, someone from the crowd started to chant “f**k the police, no justice, no peace” and many followed suit – this lasted for about a minute.

Sarah Keith, who lives near Victoria Park, said she completely understands the sentiment behind the chants, considering the “history of police violence in this country”.

The chant was just a “product of anger at an institution which is meant to protect us – and continues to fail to do so”, she said.

Another reason for her attendance at the vigil, Sarah said, was to protest the upcoming Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is seeking to give the police more power to restrict demonstrations.

Critics have claimed the bill omits measures to reduce violence against women and girls.

Sarah described it as “extremely concerning and clearly aimed at curtailing the right to protest".

“We will not be stopped from demonstrating peacefully,” she said.

“Women are right to be angry.”

Many of those who could not physically attend the vigil in London Fields held doorstep vigils to pay tribute to Sarah and all women affected by violence.

Homerton resident Ashley Hodges said: "We can't imagine the devastation Sarah's family feels at this moment.

"But I would ask that Hackney Council will be specific in what actions they will be taking in the immediate future as a priority, and help our voices be heard at the national level as well.

"Harassment and incidents in the borough are commonplace, and it's simply not acceptable."

The former charity chief executive and trustee of Elizabeth House community centre in Islington added both men and women were "incredibly disappointed" by the Met's "grave mishandling" of the Clapham Common vigil, which saw police forcibly remove and arrest protesters.

%image(15011110, type="article-full", alt="Despite a ban on large gatherings people gathered in London Fields to remember Sarah Everard.")

Hackney Council said it is committed to change and has helped to tackle sexual harassment with its #ReframeTheNight campaign.

But, in a joint statement, Deputy Mayor Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, community safety chief Cllr Susan Fajana-Thomas, and mayoral advisor for homelessness, housing needs and rough sleeping Cllr Sade Etti said: “We throw our wholehearted support behind the messages of the vigil.

"However, we cannot support any mass gatherings, even at social distance, given the very real risk to public health."

Met commissioner Dame Cressida Dick, said she would not resign over the policing of the Clapham event, despite drawing criticism.

She said officers "have to take action if people are putting themselves massively at risk", adding: "If it had been lawful, I'd have been there, I'd have been at a vigil."

%image(15011111, type="article-full", alt="Doorstep vigils took place in Hackney as well, and were supported by Hackney Council.")