IT wasn’t just the flowers left for Sarah Everard that were trampled on by the Metropolitan Police at Clapham Common on Saturday. Our human rights to peacefully protest – a fundamental principle of any democracy – were shamefully trampled.

This was a peaceful vigil to honour the memory of a young woman murdered while simply walking through a park in South London as she returned home from a pal’s flat. Women gathered to pay their respects to Sarah Everard. To express their sorrow and anger against predatory male violence and brutality against women.

Those who had gathered at Clapham Common wanted to peacefully protest in solidarity with the #ReclaimTheseStreets (RTS) women’s movement. Women don’t feel safe on our streets and they rightly want that to change.

The Metropolitan Police ought to have understood all of those feelings and emotions of grief. They ought to have worked with the organisers to ensure the event went ahead safely. By many accounts they didn’t. They chose to shut down the vigil knowing this would lead to the use of force against peaceful demonstrators. It was a crass decision bereft of human compassion and common sense.

Images of young women being handcuffed and pinned to the ground by male police officers were ugly and disturbing. Women that could have easily been your daughter, partner, sister, friend or colleague. All compounded by reports that a serving Metropolitan Police officer had been arrested and charged with the murder of Sarah Everard.

A statement from RTS over the weekend said the group had been working with the local council and police to ensure the vigil was Covid-secure and safe. The police were initially supportive, said RTS, but at the last minute claimed their “hands were tied” because of Covid regulations. A peaceful protest could not proceed as it would be “unlawful” according to the Metropolitan Police.

Labour’s Harriet Harman QC MP – chair of the UK Parliament’s joint human rights committee – had written to the police in advance of the vigil explaining that “Parliament has not specifically acted to constrain the right to demonstrate, so long as social distancing is observed this vigil will be perfectly lawful”.

With the police still refusing to accept the right of protesters to gather safely in line with Covid rules, RTS sought an urgent English High Court ruling last Friday that the police’s understanding of the law was wrong.

RTS said that minutes before the court hearing the police conceded there was no blanket ban on protesting under Covid legislation. This meant the court didn’t have to rule on the principle at stake.

The judge, Mr Justice Holgate, said: “There may well be further communication between the claimants and the police to deal with the application of the [Covid] regulations and [the rights to protest]. But that is not a matter on which the court should comment.”

Sadly, that further communication was the use of police force to break up and silence a peaceful vigil.

All of this was in stark contrast to the way a mostly male crowd of Rangers FC fans were treated by the police in Glasgow over a week ago. As we know, football fans were escorted by the police as they marched through our city’s streets before trashing George Square.

The hypocrisy and double standards here are incredible. Male protesters allowed to walk our streets freely; women protesters denied the right to reclaim our streets peacefully.

Covid-19 is taking us dangerously close to a police state. A society where authoritarian diktats interpret the law and tell us what we can and cannot do under pain of arrest and prosecution.

Who appointed the police as gatekeepers of our human rights and democratic freedoms? It isn’t their job and yet throughout the pandemic we’ve seen the police assert increasing powers of judge, jury and enforcer. It has to stop.

The response from the Metropolitan Police was to assert they had no option but to close the vigil. Assistant Commissioner Helen Ball said: “Police must act for people’s safety, this is the only responsible thing to do. We absolutely did not want to be in a position where enforcement action was necessary. But we were placed in this position because of the overriding need to protect people’s safety.”

In England, the Home Secretary Priti Patel has just published a crime bill that would give the police in England more powers to silence the right of people to protest. Literally, with new powers if protesters are too noisy. In Scotland, we can’t even manage to protect women in the government’s Hate Crime Bill.

Neither the pandemic nor the Covid health rules should ever be used to disapply or remove our human rights and fundamental freedoms and principles of democracy. Women have been let down badly. It’s time for change.