Comment: Women deserve more from the Met Police’s safety action plan

The Met Police’s plan to address the crisis in women’s safety is heavy on promises and rhetoric, and light on detail, says Jessica Frank-Keyes.

Just how safe do you feel leaving the house at night?

Maybe you hold your keys between your knuckles, share your location on WhatsApp, wear bright colours, or avoid poorly lit areas.

Or maybe, as the nights draw in, you simply retreat, longing for the return of light summer evenings and hours more daylight.

Women’s safety - and police violence - has barely left the headlines in recent months.

And while news cycles move on to the latest scandal, now is not the time to do the same.

Flowers surround the Clapham Common bandstand memorial to murdered Sarah Everard (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

And a police misconduct tribunal heard a borough commander - one of just 12 highly senior officers who run London’s police command units - describe a pregnant female colleague as a “f****** nutter”.

That’s without even mentioning the murder of Sarah Everard, the death of Sabina Nessa, and the murders of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman.

Murders that shattered families and left us all even more cautious and fearful.

The chilling revelations that serving police officers charged with preserving the integrity of a murder scene took photographs of women’s brutalised bodies and shared those images, superimposed with one of their faces, with their colleagues, are almost beyond belief.

This unprecedented combination of crimes has - rightly - shocked the public.

Sabina Nessa was walking to meet her friends at a bar when she was killed.

Some white women have confronted for the first time the reality communities of colour have always lived with - that the police cannot be relied upon as a place of unquestioned safety.

But this shouldn’t be headline news - or at least not for the first time.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism revealed in 2019 the extent to which reports of domestic violence against police officers go unpunished, with victims fearing reporting their abusers “because he’s one of them”.

Rates of prosecution for rape are so low as to be almost decriminalised.

Court backlogs predate the Covid crisis with victims waiting months if not years for justice.

While in London, the Met’s own safety strategy reveals that in 2021 one in five women in the UK will experience sexual assault, while one in four will experience domestic abuse.

Sarah Everard

Across the capital, recorded domestic abuse cases have increased by 26pc in five years, and in 2020-21 alone, the Met recorded more than 19,000 allegations of sexual offences.

Scotland Yard’s plan to address the crisis, released this week, is long past due.

But the 23-page document, a lengthy read by no stretch of the imagination, was heavy on promises and rhetoric, and light on detail.

£10m of the forces £3.24bn annual budget pledged for digital evidence gathering was the only financial commitment made.

Just 8,500 of more than 43,000 Met officers and staff will be given domestic abuse training.

More officers will patrol safety “hotspots” and warrant cards could be made scannable by the public to confirm the “authenticity” of officers - a move aimed at reassurance.

Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman. Credit: Met Police

To which surely the only response can be, I’m struggling to understand how that would have helped Sarah Everard.

Or stopped the equally “authentic” officers who snapped pictures of Mina Smallman’s mutilated daughters.

Or prevented Paul Martin allegedly presiding over a “boys club”, making repeated references to “hormones and pregnancy” and “bellowing” for junior staff to wash up his porridge bowl.

The women whose tragic - and preventable - deaths sparked the outcry that led to this report deserve more.

More funding, more training, more concrete and measurable actions to root out the rot that - unquestionably - goes to the very top of an organisation that should be an unquestionable place of safety.

And so do the rest of us.

What do you think about the Met’s safety plan? Let us know your thoughts at [email protected] or tweet @LondonWorldCom