Hundreds of people have gathered at a vigil in Clapham Common to commemorate and pay their respects to Sarah Everard, who was abducted and murdered a year ago.
A crowd walked through Clapham North to the Clapham Common bandstand in south London, the same monument where hundreds of flowers were laid last year when the 33-year-old’s abduction and murder first came to light.
On Thursday evening, flowers were laid and candles lit at the bandstand near where she disappeared. Poetry was recited and speeches were made about the issue of violence against women and girls. The vigil, organised by the community group Urban Angels, ended with a minute’s silence.
“What initially gave me the idea was from my personal experiences of walking home from nights out, and just being a woman in general walking streets during the day. But the [death of Everard] definitely gave me the spur to create the community straight away,” said Cornford.
Everard was kidnapped, raped and killed by Wayne Couzens, then a serving police officer, on 3 March 2021. Cornford feels there has been some change in attitudes towards violence against women since then.
“We’ve been speaking to venues who are keen to have their bouncers trained properly about how to look for spiking, and have been speaking to local councils, and other incredible organisations which have come about in the last year, such as Stamp Out Spiking, Slutsafe and Homesafe.”
However, Cornford believes there is still a “very long way to go”.
“A significant number of women still feel unsafe walking at night,” she said. “Personally, I do not feel that safe in London especially.”
Rachel Strong, 25, a sign language interpreter, was among the thousands who attended the vigil and paid her respects at the Clapham Common bandstand last year.
“Something about what happened to her, being a similar age and living in a similar area to me, really impacted me,” she says. “So when I found out about the vigil today, there was no doubt in my mind that I would go.”
Mark Hall, who is in his 50s, said he attended the vigil to show his respects, and that he was “shocked, dismayed and traumatised” when thinking about Everard’s murder. “I’m hoping that by lots of people coming out like this, it might mean there will be some changes, which mean it would be less likely to happen to girls and women in the future,” he said.
Hall said the UK’s criminal justice system had a lot to answer for in terms of improving actions and attitudes towards violence against women and girls. “I think, given the pathetic percentages of rape allegations that are successfully prosecuted, indicates that a lot more needs to be done.”
Martha Cope, a 52-year-old actor, said Everard’s murder affected her as her daily walk during lockdown last year was in almost the exact area where Everard was abducted.
“I have a 22-year-old daughter and I don’t think anything has happened, since or before, to make women feel safer,” she said. “I haven’t seen any change in the past year.”
In a statement released on Thursday by the Metropolitan police, Everard’s family said they had been overwhelmed by the public’s support. “It is a year since Sarah died and we remember her today, as every day, with all our love,” they said.
“Our lives have changed for ever and we live with the sadness of our loss. Sarah was wonderful and we miss her all the time. Over the past year we have been overwhelmed with the kindness shown to us, not just by family and friends, but by the wider public.
“Sadly, Sarah is not the only woman to have lost her life recently in violent circumstances and we would like to extend our deepest sympathy to other families who are also grieving.”
Talisker Alcobia Cornford, 22, founded Urban Angels in 2021, after being inspired to launch the platform following Everard’s murder.
The group of women and non-binary people is made up of 13 smaller Facebook groups across the UK, with its main function to share accounts of incidents of sexual harassment, assault or events that have made members feel unsafe, with the hope of warning others about what may be happening at a specific location in their community.