UK: Hundreds defy virus restrictions to remember slain woman

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People gather, at the band stand in Clapham Common, in memory of Sarah Everard, after an official vigil was cancelled, in London, Saturday, March 13, 2021. A serving British police officer accused of the kidnap and murder of a woman in London has appeared in court for the first time. Wayne Couzens, 48, is charged with kidnapping and killing 33-year-old Sarah Everard, who went missing while walking home from a friend’s apartment in south London on March 3. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

LONDON (AP) — Hundreds of people in London defied coronavirus restrictions Saturday to pay their respects to a 33-year-old woman who disappeared while walking home and was found dead a week later. The case, which sent shockwaves across the U.K. because a police officer has been charged with her kidnapping and murder, also has spurred a national conversation about violence against women.

Earlier in the day, Metropolitan Police constable Wayne Couzens, 48, appeared in court for the first time since he was arrested on suspicion of abducting and killing marketing executive Sarah Everard, who was last seen walking home from a friend’s apartment in south London on the night of March 3.

Everard’s body was found hidden in an area of woodland in Kent, more than 50 miles southeast of London, on Wednesday. A post-mortem examination was taking place, police said Friday.

The Metropolitan Police has expressed shock and horror that one of its own was a suspect in the case. The London police force said Couzens joined its ranks in 2018 and most recently served in the parliamentary and diplomatic protection command, an armed unit responsible for guarding embassies in the capital and Parliament.

Couzens, who wore a gray tracksuit during Saturday’s brief heaering, stood as the charges were read to him. He was remanded into custody and has another appearance scheduled Tuesday at London’s Central Criminal Court.

In the wake of Everard’s disappearance and killing, many women have taken to social media to share their own experiences of being threatened or attacked while walking outside.

Organizers had hoped to hold “Reclaim the Streets” vigils in Everard’s memory on Saturday but canceled the in-person events after a judge refused to grant an order allowing them to go on despite despite coronavirus restrictions that bar mass gatherings.

The organizers said they were instead raising funds for women’s causes. They also urged people to light a candle on their doorstep rather than attend large gatherings.

Despite the court ruling, hundreds of people turned up Saturday in the Clapham area of London, near where Everard was last seen. Many laid flowers at a make-shift memorial. Among them was Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, who was seen pausing for a moment in front of the sea of flowers.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he planned to light a candle Saturday with his fiancée, Carrie Symond, to remember Everard.

TV and radio presenter Sandi Toksvig said at the start of a vigil held online that a “cultural shift about how women are viewed and treated both in the public and private space” was needed.

“I am filled in equal measure with profound sorrow and rage, and I know there are many who share this rage, and I think it is entirely justifiable,” Toksvig said. “But I also know that it will harm rather than help us if we don’t try and direct that anger to good purpose.”

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