Reuters photographer Hannah McKay has said that photojournalists were key to spreading news about police handling of the Clapham Common vigil for Sarah Everard in March – despite people “pointing their fingers” at them.
McKay won the 2021 British Journalism Award for photojournalism for her depiction of the notorious arrest of physics student Patsy Stevenson at the vigil.
Judges said: “The winning image captured an iconic moment and will form an essential part of the historic record of British life in 2021.”
Speaking to Press Gazette after receiving the award, McKay said: “There was quite a lot of controversy over it at the time.
“You know, people were trying to point their fingers at protestors, people were trying to point their fingers at the police, people were trying to point their fingers at the photographers, but at the end of the day, if we weren’t there documenting what had happened, the cause would have never been known.”
Journalists at the vigil were accused by some of being inadequately sensitive to the occasion, in particular by taking up positions on the bandstand that was the focus of the event. Other critics said reporters had sensationalised or politicised the police response.
As per usual.
People abuse the police but somehow it’s the polices fault.
— Duke Pantalaimon Silvertongue (@DukePantalaimon) March 13, 2021
McKay said that once her photo was out, “because I worked at Reuters, which is an international agency, it went from a South London local story to one of international interest. And then it started off all the Kill the Bill protests, and whether or not you agree on what they were there for, it got talked about. And that’s probably what’s important… in that situation, is that people were talking about what women were worried about.”
McKay in 2018 jointly received a Pulitzer Prize for feature photography for Reuters’ capturing of the Rohingya refugee crisis in Myanmar.
The Clapham Common vigil followed the murder of 33-year-old Sarah Everard, a marketing executive living in Brixton Hill, London, by Wayne Couzens, then a serving police officer. Couzens had been identified as the suspect by media days before the vigil, which went ahead despite Metropolitan Police instructions to comply with Covid-19 restrictions and stay away.
McKay’s was not the only image from the vigil that made it into the British Journalism Awards shortlist: Shutterstock Editorial’s James Veysey was nominated for another picture of Stevenson’s detention.
McKay told Press Gazette: “What happened to Sarah Everard, even though people don’t know her personally, everybody could relate to what had happened, and I think that — that night, whatever happened, really started momentum about this stuff, what women go through on a daily basis. And I think the fact that it was by a serving police officer just added to people’s anger, because they’re the people we’re supposed to be protected by.
“I was there all afternoon, so I watched thousands of people bring in flowers. It was really moving, actually, to watch all these people who didn’t know each other or Sarah come together in support of her.”
Picture: Reuters/Hannah McKay