‘No one came to help’: Anger as lack of staff on London transport ‘is putting women at risk’

Calls for more to be done to improve safety comes after woman targeted at north London tube station, Holly Evans writes

Monday 23 October 2023 21:26 BST
<p>Women have spoken out about their experiences of harassment on London’s transport networks </p>

Women have spoken out about their experiences of harassment on London’s transport networks

“As soon as I got home, I burst into tears,” Francesca McClimont said, after she was followed home on a bus by a random stranger as she returned from a night out in London.

She had been sitting at a bus stop outside Angel tube station during the early hours of the morning, when a man approached her from the opposite side of the road, shouting she was “beautiful” and trying to put his arm around her.

Despite her efforts to get away, he followed her onto the bus and continued to harass her throughout her journey.

“I look back and think did I not make it obvious enough? Did I handle it correctly? I kept thinking ‘can no one intervene?’”.

Francesca McClimont was harassed outside a tube station and followed onto a bus by a stranger

While CCTV operates on London buses, Ms McClimont says the driver failed to notice her distress and many of the city’s 19,000 bus stops are not covered by cameras.

“I was really alone,” she said. “There should be better CCTV in terms of bus travel, it wasn’t a remote stop and they should be monitoring it in the early hours of the morning.”

Have you experienced a similar incident or felt unsafe on Britain’s transport network? Email holly.evans@independent.co.uk

Women’s safety on public transport networks has once again come under scrutiny, after a viral video showed a hooded man jumping across the train tracks to harass a woman in north London.

In a TikTok post, she wrote that she had been standing on the platform at Bruce Grove Overground station in Tottenham when she was first approached by the individual at around 10pm on 20 October.

Throughout the minute-long video, she repeatedly asks “Can you leave me alone” and “I don’t wanna chat to you”, while he follows her around the station.

She stopped filming after he threatened to take her phone and blocked her from exiting the station, causing her to shout for help from people in the street.

A viral video shows a man jumping over the train tracks to harass a woman

British Transport Police have confirmed they are investigating the incident, while social media users have expressed anger at the lack of police and TfL staff available at stations during the later hours of the evening and early hours of the morning.

Posting on social media, one user wrote: “There’s never any staff in the Overground anymore and it’s made it so much worse”, while another said she was left terrified while being followed around an empty tube station, with no staff present to assist her.

Speaking to The Independent, women’s activist Farah Benis said: “Every station needs to have staff. I think it’s not only a failure of the rail service but a failure in taking people’s safety into account.”

When she was 16 years-old, she was sitting on the top deck of a London bus travelling down Oxford Street when a man performed a sex act while staring at her. After he ran off the bus while she shouted at him, the bus driver shouted at her to sit down and be quiet, while other commuters “looked at me as if I’d done something wrong”.

Years later, she established Catcalls of London where women can report their experiences of unwanted sexual behaviour. In the last six years, she has collected 27,465 testimonies from people and works alongside TfL to raise awareness of harassment.

Campaigner Farah Benis has called for staff to be available at every rail station

Of all the submissions received, 38 per cent occurred on public transport or around a station, while 98 per cent of the harassers were adult men.

In their recent crime report, published in July 2023, Transport for London noted that concern of being the victim of unwanted sexual behaviour was more common on the Underground, with females experiencing more worry than men.

Of those that participated in the recent survey, 33 per cent said they had experienced a worrying incident on London’s public transport services. Eight per cent of those involved being a victim of sexual behaviour while another eight per cent had suffered from a lack of police or staff present.

Major campaigns like ‘Report It to Stop It’ and ‘Speak up, Interrupt’ have been aimed at empowering bystanders to intervene, with the BTP witnessing a three-fold increase in the reports of sexual harassment compared to the pandemic.

“I think these campaigns are great and they contribute to instigating change but they can’t be the only thing that’s happening,” Ms Benis said. “There has to be more investment into the staff and into their training.”

In recent years, ticket offices across the London transport network have been closing, significantly reducing the number of staff members visible in train stations.

CCTV does not currently operate on the Central, Piccadilly, Bakerloo or Waterloo line trains (Nick Ansell/PA)

The lack of CCTV available on rail networks is also a cause of concern for campaigners, with the introduction of cameras onto the Central line trains now pushed back despite it being the line with the highest number of sexual assaults.

The Bakerloo and Waterloo & City carriages also don’t have CCTV, while the new camera-fitted Piccadilly line trains are not being introduced until 2025.

A spokesperson for the Mayor of London, said: “It’s completely unacceptable that any woman or girl should be forced to face harassment or intimidation. TfL is supporting the British Transport Police with their investigation into this incident.

“The Mayor is working with TfL and the police to take a zero-tolerance approach to all forms of sexual harassment across the transport network, and stamp this predatory behaviour out.

“A lot of work still needs to be done, but tackling violence against women and girls remains an absolute priority and the Mayor is determined to ensure that every woman and girl is safe, and feels safe – whatever the time of day and wherever they are in the capital.”

A spokesperson for the British Transport Police added: “There is absolutely no place for sexual harassment or sexual offences on the railway network and we are working tirelessly to stamp out this unacceptable behaviour.

“We have enhanced patrols of uniformed and specially trained plain clothes officers across at stations and on trains day and night to identify offenders and reassure passengers. We also have access to over 150,000 CCTV cameras across the railway network which can provide us with clear high quality images.

“But this isn’t our only tactic when it comes to identifying suspects and bringing cases to court, we also police a data rich environment where we can easily extract useful information about people and their journeys when crimes are committed.”

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