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‘Stop restricting women’: Campaigners criticise proposed 888 phone service to track women walking home

A phone service to help protect women travelling alone has been described as a “plaster” by critics who say the solution to male violence is not further surveillance of women.

The proposed service would allow people to use an app or dial or text 888 to trigger GPS tracking. It would give an expected journey time, with automatic alerts sent to emergency contacts such as friends and family if the person fails to reach home by the given time.

BT chief executive Philip Jansen has pioneered the idea after being filled with “outrage and disgust” at the murders of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa.

Sabina Nessa's body was identified on Monday. Pic: Met Police
33-year-old marketing executive Sarah Everard was murdered by former police officer Wayne Couzens
Image: The idea for the service comes after the killings of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa (top)

He hopes it could be up and running by Christmas, and indicated it would be available to anyone who felt vulnerable – not just women and girls.

However, Nick Gazzard, whose daughter Hollie was killed by her ex-boyfriend in 2014, said he was “disappointed” about the service.

Mr Gazzard, who set up the Hollie Gazzard Trust, said: “I think it’s great that the government are finally listening that something needs to be done, but on the other hand a little disappointed that it’s come to this.

“We’ve been trying to work with the government for a period of time now, and we’re not getting very far. We have an app called Hollie Guard which will do everything that 888 does but lots more as well.

More on Sabina Nessa

“This has been in since 2015, so it’s tried and tested after a lot of research was undertaken following the murder of my daughter, Hollie, back in 2014.”

Similarly, Samantha Billingham – who set up her own support group to help domestic abuse survivors – said it would not fix the underlying issues.

She tweeted: “Women could use the app to summon Police if they felt threatened. After the murder of Sarah Everard?”

She told Home Secretary Priti Patel to “stop putting a plaster over things” and “tackle the issue in hand”.

Ms Patel has reportedly backed the project and is quoted in the Daily Mail as saying: “This new phone line is exactly the kind of innovative scheme which would be good to get going as soon as we can. I’m now looking at it with my team and liaising with BT.”

A Home Office spokeswoman confirmed they had received a letter from Mr Jansen and will “respond in due course”.

Home Secretary Priti Patel speaks at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester. Picture date: Tuesday October 5, 2021.
Image: Priti Patel is said to support the proposed new service

The app, which has been provisionally named 888 or “walk me home” could also be used for taxi or public transport journeys, while another feature would allow users to send a one-touch alert to police.

David Challen – who campaigned to free his mother, Sally Challen, who suffered a lifetime of coercive control at the hands of her husband – said: “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.

“The Home Sec called the idea an ‘innovative scheme’.

“What would be innovative is to fix our broken criminal justice system that currently fails victims, or to create powerful and engaging awareness campaigns aimed at men, or vastly increase funding to specialist services.”

The Women’s Trust added: “Freedoms and rights shouldn’t be quashed to make more room and excuses for male violence. Funding an app, while survivors continue to be let down by the health and criminal justice systems is not the answer.”

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said the real problem was that “only 1% of reported rapes result in a charge” – not women walking home at night.

While Dr Julia Grace Patterson, chief executive of Every Doctor UK, said it reminded her of being given a rape alarm during freshers’ week at university, adding that she “still got attacked that Sunday, in broad daylight”.

Gemma Graham, a psychology and criminology lecturer, added: “I’m fed up being told I have to change my behaviour to be safe. I shouldn’t have to download an app, put my keys between my knuckles, work out the safest route home, look over my shoulder, and base all my decisions on ‘what if I get attacked’.”

It comes as London police chief Cressida Dick announced on Friday the person who will lead an independent review into the Metropolitan Police’s culture and standards.

Baroness Louise Casey of Blackstock will look into the current leadership of the force and its recruitment, vetting and training of officers.

The review was launched after it emerged Sarah Everard’s killer was allowed to continue working as a police officer despite being suspected of indecent exposure in 2015 and again just a few days before he abducted and murdered her.

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