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Sunday, October 24, 2021

Sarah Everard: ‘Walk Me Home’ service to protect lone women


Plans for a phone service aimed at protecting lone women walking home have been set out by BT in the wake of the murder of Sarah Everard.

“Walk Me Home” would allow users to opt in to a GPS tracking system, and if they did not arrive at their destination on time, an alert would be sent.

The phone service, which is still in its early stages, would be activated by dialling a number, possibly 888.

However, some campaigners argue that the real issue is male violence.

Users of the service, which would be available on any network, would be able to enter their home address and other regular destinations into a mobile phone app.

Before going for a walk, the user would launch the app or call or text 888. This would provide the estimated travel time and start the GPS tracking.

When the user was expected to arrive at their destination, a message would be sent to them. Failure to respond would result in calls to emergency contacts and, eventually, the police.

Writing in the Daily Mail, BT chief executive Philip Jansen said the cases of Sarah Everard, who was kidnapped as she was walking home, and Sabina Nessa, who was killed as she walked to meet a friend, filled him with “outrage and disgust” and prompted his company to take action.

“Male violence is causing so many people, particularly women, to live in fear,” he wrote, adding that he was in a position to take action.

Mr Jansen stated that they were constructing the “next-generation 999 network.”

“We propose incorporating a new emergency service to supplement 999.”

“This new service, tentatively dubbed 888 or ‘walk me home,’ could be used on taxi rides, public transportation, or any journey.”

According to him, the existence of the 888 service “should also act as a deterrent to criminals, knowing that if their victim does not arrive at their destination on time, friends and family will start ringing around and alerting the police.”

Mr Jansen added that the service needed to be tested and that funding was required.

He also acknowledged that there will be concerns about privacy and app misuse, including wasting police time.

He stated in a letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel that he had laid out the plans for the app, which could be used by anyone who felt vulnerable.

Sarah Everard was murdered by serving Met Police officer Wayne Couzens after he falsely arrested her

According to Ms Patel, “this new phone line is exactly the kind of innovative scheme that would be good to get going as soon as we can.” I’m now discussing it with my team and coordinating with BT.”

But Samantha Billingham, from the Survivors of Domestic Abuse support group, tweeted: “Stop putting a plaster over things Priti Patel that need a bandage wrapped around to work and keep in place.

“Tackle the issue in hand!”

David Challen, who became a domestic abuse campaigner after his mother Sally was jailed for killing his father having suffered years of emotional abuse and coercive control, tweeted: “Rather than develop ideas to actually tackle male violence the Home Office think tracking women with an app is a solution?!

“Stop restricting women’s freedoms to accommodate male violence.”

And Nazir Afzal, the prosecutor of some of the UK’s most notorious sex offenders, tweeted: “Any strategy that requires the potential women victims to be tagged rather than the violent male perpetrator will fail.

“The cause of violence against women is a violent man, not a lone woman.”

“Here’s a radical idea for you Priti – instead of tracking women’s movements as we go about our lives, how about the government actually tackles male violence?” said Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner on Twitter. Only 1% of all reported rapes result in a charge. That’s the issue, not the fact that we’re walking home.”

In response to the app proposal, the Women’s Equality Party stated: “This is just another thing women can do to keep themselves safe, and it shows that the government believes it is women’s responsibility to avoid violence.

“We must stop managing violence against women and girls and begin to eliminate it.”

Sabina Nessa’s body was found near her home in Kidbrooke

A Home Office spokesman said they will respond to Mr Jansen’s letter “in due course”.

“As set out in our strategy earlier this year, we need a whole of society approach to tackling violence against women and girls and welcome joint working between the private sector and government.”

Met Police officer Wayne Couzens murdered Sarah Everard after falsely arresting her for a breach of Covid-19 guidelines as she walked home from a friend’s house in south London on 3 March.

He has been sentenced to a whole-life prison term.

And last month more than 500 people joined a vigil held in memory of primary school teacher Sabina Nessa, who was killed a few minutes’ walk from her London home. A 36-year-old man has been charged with her murder.

Following Sarah Everard’s murder, London’s Metropolitan Police announced on Friday that Baroness Louise Casey of Blackstock will lead an independent review of the force’s culture and standards.

It is expected to take six months to investigate the force’s vetting, recruitment, and training procedures.

Dame Cressida Dick, Commissioner of the Met Police, stated that the move was made to “ensure that the public has more confidence in us.”

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