‘We are expendable’: Frustration and anger over women’s safety one year after Sarah Everard’s murder

‘They treat women’s safety like a PR check box – they have done nothing to make us matter,’ says campaigner

<p>One year on from Sarah Everard’s murder at the hands of a police officer, women say not enough has been done to make them feel safe </p>

One year on from Sarah Everard’s murder at the hands of a police officer, women say not enough has been done to make them feel safe

One year ago today, Sarah Everard left a friend’s house in Clapham, southwest London, at 9pm to begin the 50-minute walk back to her own flat in Brixton.

As the 33-year-old marketing executive weaved her way through a network of residential streets, she spoke on the phone with her boyfriend Josh Lowth and the pair made plans to meet the next day.

Their 15-minute call ended shortly before 9.30pm, and a doorbell camera on Poynders Road captured her walking by not long after. But then, she vanished.

Friends and family searched frantically for days before it emerged a serving Metropolitan Police officer had been arrested in connection with her disappearance.

Ms Everard’s loved ones later learned she had been abducted in a fake Covid arrest by firearms officer Wayne Couzens, a married father-of two who went on to rape and murder his victim.

Her death sparked a national debate about women’s safety and the government responded by promising to make it a priority.

Home secretary Priti Patel announced violence against women and girls would be treated as seriously as terrorism by police forces, while the government more than doubled the size of its safer streets fund and commissioned the independent Angiolini inquiry to examine whether any red flags were missed in Couzens’ policing career.

But on the anniversary of Ms Everard’s death, many feel not enough has been done.

Jamie Klingler, co-founder of Reclaim These Streets, believes the home secretary’s announcement is simply an “incredibly opportunistic” PR stunt.

“Nothing has demonstrably been done to improve women’s safety,” she told The Independent.

Jamie Klingler, co-founder of campaign group from Reclaim These Streets

“The pervasive level of fear has not been alleviated by any action from the government.

“They treat women’s safety like a PR check box. We are expendable.

“They have done nothing to make us matter. A watershed moment was wasted – and they made decisions to waste it.”

Ms Klingler wants to see the government commit to a full statutory inquiry of misogyny in the Metropolitan Police, and has called for misogyny to be made a hate crime. Only then does she believe there will be real change.

One thing she does think has changed in the last year, however, is the conversations people are now having around dining tables.

“These are not the 2am conversations about our experiences,” she said. “People are talking to their partners and sons about it, they’re talking about the fear and about how many decisions we make every day to avoid conflict and danger.

“We’re talking about how the tax on being a woman is sexual abuse.”

Ms Everard, 33, was kidnapped and murdered by police officer Wayne Couzens as she walked home in south London in March 2021

Reclaim These Streets organised a vigil to remember Ms Everard at Clapham Common shortly after her death but it was cancelled after police said it risked breaching lockdown rules.

Hundreds of women still gathered on the common, with the Duchess of Cambridge even making a brief appearance, but it descended into chaos as police began arresting people.

Reclaim These Streets says it is not planning to hold a vigil or rally on Thursday because it believes that should be a decision for Everard’s family.

Events have been organised elsewhere, however, including in Clapham and outside the Scottish parliament.

Madison Hall is head of the Lambeth arm of Urban Angels, a network of Facebook groups focused on the safety of women, non-binary and gender fluid people set up in March 2021 in the wake of Everard’s death.

The groups allow people to share alerts of dangerous or suspicious behaviour in the community, and some members use it to buddy up with others for journeys home.

Madison Hall co-organised a walk in Clapham as part of Urban Angels to coincide with the first anniversary of Ms Everard’s death

The 25-year-old, who lives near Clapham and has walked the same streets Ms Everard did the night she was kidnapped, said there was still a blanket of sadness and caution over the area.

“To be honest I think there’s just a feeling of sadness still from the events that have happened, not just to Sarah Everard, but the countless women who’ve lost their lives across the UK and frustration and anger when looking at what has changed from last year because it’s difficult to name anything tangible that’s changed,” she told The Independent.

Ms Hall said she had been subjected to cat calling and unwanted touching on nights out, and once sat at a bus stop outside her house for a “really long time” after she was followed home.

“Definitely since it [Everard’s murder] happened I don’t walk around at night around there anymore,” she told The Independent.

“I think before that people were more blasé around women’s safety, but I think people are more cautious walking around on their own now.”

On Thursday evening, the group will lead a walk in memory of “victims of gendered violence”, which will finish at the Clapham Common bandstand near where Ms Everard went missing and the location of the vigil held in her memory last year.

Posters were put up around south London in the days after Ms Everard went missing in March 2021

There have also been reports of women signing up to self-defence classes in their droves following the murder of not just Ms Everard, but also 28-year-old primary school teacher Sabina Nessa, who was attacked and killed by a stranger while walking through a park to meet a friend in Kidbrooke, south London, in September and PCSO Julia James, 53, who was killed while walking her dog in Kent in April.

Fahed Rahman, who runs Alexandra Park Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in north London, which has been offering free classes to women and girls, said there was a “feeling of unease” among women signing up.

“In October there was a large uptake of the free classes and a lot of the women did mention what happened to Sarah Everard and the general feeling of unease about what was happening,” he said.

“When I have new starters sign up, I ask them to fill out a form which asks what they want to get out of it and most of them mention self-defence.”

The Metropolitan Police is currently battling to rebuild public trust amid serious concern over the behaviour of some of its officers.

In the wake of Ms Everard’s death, one officer faced misconduct proceedings after sharing a highly offensive meme relating to her kidnap.

Two other constables were jailed for taking photographs of the bodies of murdered sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman and sharing them on WhatsApp.

Primary school teacher Sabina Nessa, 28, was attacked and killed by a stranger while walking through a park to meet a friend in Kidbrooke, south London, in September 2021

And a watchdog earlier this month published disturbing misogynist, homophobic and racist messages shared by officers based at Charing Cross Police station between 2016 and 2018, which saw Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick resign.

The force will expand its “walk and talk” scheme, which sees members of the public go out on patrol and point out areas they feel vulnerable, across the whole of London next week to coincide with International Women’s Day.

It is also in the process of deploying 650 officers into new town centre teams to increase police visibility.

A non-statutory inquiry - led by Dame Elish Angiolini - is looking at how Couzens was able to work as a police officer for three different forces despite concerns about his behaviour.

Following this, there are plans for a second part that would look at wider issues in policing.

As part of the home secretary’s push to prioritise violence against women and girls, chief constables on police forces across England and Wales will be required to ramp up efforts to improve rape conviction rates.

It comes after rape convictions plummeted to an all-time low, falling to just 1.3 per cent in England and Wales despite record numbers of reports to police last year, according to the Office for National Statistics,

In the immediate aftermath of Ms Everard’s death, the government promised to more than double the size of the safer streets fund, which gives local authorities money to make public spaces safer for women and girls, to £45million.

By October, £23.5million of the additional £25million of funding had already been allocated to projects.

The government also launched its Enough campaign on Tuesday with a 60-second television advert showing examples of street harassment, coercive control, unwanted touching, workplace harassment, revenge-porn and cyber-flashing women are subjected to.

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