888 service aimed at keeping lone women safe at night in wake of Sarah Everard murder scrapped

5 April 2023, 15:35 | Updated: 5 April 2023, 18:04

An emergency phone number that aimed to help keep women safe at night following the murder of Sarah Everard has been scrapped.
An emergency phone number that aimed to help keep women safe at night following the murder of Sarah Everard has been scrapped. Picture: Getty / Alamy

By Chris Samuel

An emergency phone number that aimed to help keep women safe at night following Sarah Everard's murder has been scrapped.

After Wayne Couzens was jailed for the kidnap, rape, and murder of Ms Everard in September 2021, BT proposed launching a new 888 service to support women who felt unsafe while walking alone.

The "innovation scheme" was approved by then Home Secretary Priti Patel, who said at the time it would be good to “get going as soon as we can”.

She added: “I’m now looking at it with my team and liaising with BT.”

BT chief executive Philip Jansen had said it may cost as little as £50 million and could be operational by Christmas 2021.

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The “walk me home service” would have allowed vulnerable women to have their journeys tracked by their phone's GPS system, with an alert triggered they failed to return home in time.

Women would also have been able to contact police directly through an app if they felt threatened.

Then Home Secretary approved the scheme and said she was "looking at it with my team and liaising with BT"
Then Home Secretary approved the scheme and said she was "looking at it with my team and liaising with BT". Picture: Getty

Critics called the proposal “pointless”, dismissing it as a “plaster” over the deeper problem of male violence.

A year-and-a-half after the proposal was announced, BT has now confirmed that the service has been scrapped, HuffPost reports.

Labour’s shadow minister for domestic abuse and safeguarding Jess Phillips said: “Again and again, this Conservative government put gimmicks and headline chasing above the hard work needed to tackle the epidemic of violence against women and girls.

“This helpline was never a serious plan and it is telling of the Conservatives’ weakness that they supported it in the first place.”

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Ms Phillips said the next Labour government aims to halve levels of violence against women and girls with ten years.

The party has vowed to bring rape and domestic abuse specialists into every police force, establish a domestic abuse register and fast-track rape cases.

Jamie Klingler, co-founder of social justice organisation movement Reclaim These Streets, added: “As I said at the time, this was a red herring and just a way to pretend that the government was doing anything substantial to actually keep women any safer. It was never really a possibility and fiscally made no sense.

BT CEO Philip Jansen
BT CEO Philip Jansen. Picture: Alamy

“Since the so called watershed moment of Sarah’s murder the government and police have done nothing to make our lives safer.

“We are getting stalked, raped and killed with our attackers never being brought to justice while they pretend to create new phone lines.”

A BT spokesperson said the firm's objective they could use their expertise to help personal safety in light of male violence.

They said they discovered a “rich ecosystem” of apps and services already in existence, so they have worked with innovators who share their goal.

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“We’ve developed a solid body of new technology,” they added. “However, it became clear over the course of our work that it does not make sense, as we thought initially, to launch a new BT service, but rather to share our learnings for the wider benefit of others already working on this.”

BT says it will continue to offer to help support the cause and is working with other leaders, and encouraged anyone concerned about their personal safety to continue to call 999.

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“Our operators are highly trained, know how to listen for issues even if it is a ‘silent’ call, and will be able to route through to the police if and as needed.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The 888 phone line for women was a BT project, not a government scheme.

"We are committed to tackling all forms of violence against women and girls.

“We have so far allocated £125 million to communities across England and Wales to invest in measures including improved streetlighting and CCTV, and street marshals.

They added: "We are also supporting the Protection from Sex-Based Harassment in Public Bill, which will ensure that the criminals who intimidate and harass women face the consequences.”

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