A police commissioner has sparked outrage after he said Sarah Everard should not have submitted to false arrest and claimed women “need to be streetwise”.
The comments by North Yorkshire commissioner Philip Allott – for which he later apologised – were branded “horrifically offensive” by campaigners who accused him of victim blaming.
The commissioner said women should become more aware of which offences they can be charged for, after it emerged that serving officer Wayne Couzens – given a whole life sentence for Ms Everard’s murder – had falsely arrested her for a breach of Covid guidelines.
“So women, first of all, need to be streetwise about when they can be arrested and when they can’t be arrested. She should never have been arrested and submitted to that,” Mr Allott told BBC York on Friday.
The police commissioner added: “Perhaps women need to consider in terms of the legal process, to just learn a bit about that legal process.”
Lucy Arnold, from the campaign group Reclaim the Streets, who helped organise a vigil following Ms Everard’s death, shared her anger over the comments. “I think frankly that was a horrifically offensive thing to say,” she said.
She added: “Does anyone really feel like they can stand up to a police officer? I am very confident I know my rights, I know the law, but no I wouldn’t feel confident at all.”
Scotland’s first minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon led the political condemnation. “These comments are appalling,” she tweeted. “It’s not up to women to fix this. It’s not us who need to change.”
“The problem is male violence, not women’s ‘failure’ to find ever more inventive ways to protect ourselves against it. For change to happen, this needs to be accepted by everyone.”
Mr Allott later apologised for his remarks. “I would like to wholeheartedly apologise for my comments on BBC Radio York earlier today, which I realise have been insensitive and wish to retract them in full,” he later tweeted.
The Metropolitan Police has also come under fire after it advised that women “wave down a bus” or shout out to passers-by if they are stopped by a police officer they do not trust.
Scotland Yard made a string of suggestions on what people could do if they are approached by an officer but have concerns they are not acting legitimately.
It was suggested people should ask where the officer’s colleagues are, where they have come from, why they are there, and exactly why they are stopping or talking to them.
Aisha Ali-Khan, a women’s rights activist behind the London Women’s March, said the advice was simply “another mechanism” for the force to “pass on” the responsibility of women’s safety to “women themselves”.
Policing minister Kit Malthouse also came under fire for suggesting it was up to local areas to decide whether violence against women and girls is a serious crime.
Asked on Radio 4’s Today programme why the government was “resisting” putting violence against women and girls on the same level as knife crime, terrorism and other offences that are prioritised, Mr Malthouse responded: “We are not resisting.”
The minister added: “If there are areas that particularly want to focus on violence against woman and girls and feel they have a systemic problem, then the duty allows them to do that.”
But Jess Phillips, Labour’s shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding, branded his comments an “insult” on Twitter, adding: “Imagine him saying that about terrorism – do it if you want.”
The Labour MP also told the Today programme: “If I’d been Sarah Everard that night, I would have got in the car … So the suggestion that somehow we have to change our behaviour, once again, is a bit tiring.”
Mr Malthouse also said it would be “perfectly reasonable” for anyone approached by a lone police officer who has concerns to call 999 and seek reassurance. “I’m afraid that’s where we’ve got to,” he told Sky News.
He also claimed the under-pressure Met commissioner Dame Cressida Dick is “willing to change” and can lead reforms at the force.
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