Priti Patel and Philip Jansen (Photo: Illustration: HuffPost; Photos: Getty)
The week after Wayne Couzens was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Sarah Everard, a new emergency phone line was announced.
“NEW PHONE LIFELINE FOR LONE WOMEN,” The Daily Mail headline said on October 8, 2021. Adding that: “Priti backs plan for 888 number”.
The new number, developed in response to public outrage over the murder of Everard, could be in operation by Christmas, the article stated.
A “walk me home service” would allow vulnerable women to have their journeys tracked, triggering an alert if they failed to reach home in time.
This new phone line is exactly the kind of innovative scheme which would be good to get going as soon as we can. I'm now looking at it with my team and liaising with BT.Priti Patel, October 2021
Women would be able to use a mobile app, potentially with the number 888, to summon police if they felt threatened.
The report said the home secretary Priti Patel had approved the proposal from the chief executive of BT – which already runs the 999 service.
“This new phone line is exactly the kind of innovative scheme which would be good to get going as soon as we can. I’m now looking at it with my team and liaising with BT,” she said.
BT CEO Philip Jansen said it might cost as little as £50 million and could be up and running by Christmas that year.
He came up with the idea because he was filled with “outrage and disgust” after the murders of Everard and Sabina Nessa.
“The 888 service would be developed in collaboration with the police and the whole telecoms industry, and could even link in with CCTV networks,” he wrote.
The initiative was criticised at the time as a “plaster” over the real problem of male violence.
However, eight months since the initial announcement, next to nothing has been said about the scheme.
— Tomorrows Papers Today (@TmorrowsPapers) October 8, 2021
So HuffPost UK decided to find out what work had been done on the phone line and whether it would be live anytime soon.
We asked both the Home Office and BT whether it was still being developed, or if it had been abandoned, when it might go live, the predicted cost and funding arrangements.
However, no-one could answer any of the questions.
The Home Office directed us to BT because it related to a private sector initiative.
BT issued a statement from a spokesperson who said: “We’re looking at the role we can play in enhancing personal safety. This needs to be a team effort, with the telecoms industry, police, regulator and government talking to the whole community and to those groups campaigning on the safety of women and other individuals.”
HuffPost UK repeated the question: “Is the 888 project still going ahead? Or not?”
However, we were simply told the telecommunications giant had nothing more they could share.
A few hours later, BT issued another statement that failed to clarify the situation.
Thespokesperson added: “We’ve developed a solid body of new tech development. We now need to establish whether this should take the form of a new BT service or whether it makes more sense to ‘open source’ this work for the wider benefit of those working on this.”
BT's Philip Jansen came up with the idea because he was filled with “outrage and disgust” after the murders of Sabina Nessa and Sarah Everard [pictured]. (Photo: PA)
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper described it as a “disappearing hotline” and an example of the home secretary making promises for “short term headlines”.
The senior Labour MP told HuffPost UK: “Priti Patel’s Home Office is letting women down.
“This disappearing hotline is yet another example of the home secretary making promises for the sake of short term headlines but with no serious plan or proper action behind them.
“The reality is that the charge rate for rape is a shocking 1.3 per cent while rape is at a record high and there still aren’t specialist rape and serious sexual assault units in every police force area despite repeated calls from Labour.
“Women don’t need warm words or headlines, they need the government to get a grip and make their lives safer.”
Yvette Cooper said: “Women don’t need warm words or headlines, they need the government to get a grip and make their lives safer.” (Photo: Dan Kitwood via Getty Images)
Dr Gemma Graham, principal lecturer in forensic psychology at the University of Brighton, said it was clear theproposal was a “knee-jerk, unrealistic scheme” aimed at appeasing the public with the “façade” that they were taking violence against women and girls seriously.
“Approximately £50 million was pledged to help design the 888 app. That money should be used to educate and raise awareness about violence against women.
“Once again, women are being told to actively change their behaviour, when the change needs to start with educating boys and men not to attack women.”
Reclaim These Streets co-founder Jamie Klingler said she wanted to know if the government ever spent any money on the “pointless” proposal.
She added: “Creating a new system because 999 isn’t fit for purpose isn’t efficient.
“Similar to saying StreetSafe is about women’s safety – it isn’t, it is about pot holes. But they add on some items about harassment rather than actually consult the VAWG sector and make demonstrable change, because what would the point of actually making women safer serve.”
The Home Office stressed it was a private sector initiative and its implementation was not a matter for them.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “This is a private sector initiative and implementation is a matter for BT.
“Our Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy focuses on increasing support for survivors and bringing perpetrators to justice.
“Last September we launched the pilot of an online tool, StreetSafe, which enables the public to anonymously report areas where they feel unsafe and we have invested £70 million into local authorities and police forces through our Safer Streets Fund to detect and reduce neighbourhood crime.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.