888 phone service: why emergency ‘walk me home’ app for women after Sarah Everard murder has been criticised

While the service has reportedly received backing from Priti Patel, it has been criticised by campaigners as just a ‘plaster’ which does not tackle the root of the problem of violence against women

A phone service which is aimed at protecting women as they walk home has received the backing of the Home Secretary following the murder of Sarah Everard - however, it has been met with criticism.

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What has the Home Office said?

A spokesperson said the Home Office had received a letter from BT chief executive Philip Jansen proposing the emergency number be used to allow the vulnerable to have their journeys tracked and an alert triggered if they do not reach home in time.

“We have received the letter and will respond in due course,” the spokesperson said.

“As set out in our strategy earlier this year, we need a whole of society approach to tackling Violence against Women and Girls and welcome joint working between the private sector and Government.”

The Daily Mail quoted Priti Patel as saying: “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.”

When will it be launched?

BT has run the 999 emergency number for 84 years, and the new 888 number could be up and running by Christmas.

Jansen said the idea came because he was filled with “outrage and disgust” after the murders of Ms Everard and Sabina Nessa.

He wrote in the Daily Mail: “There is a growing anger and desperation to take action. As CEO of BT, I am in a position to do something practical. I have been thinking about how we can use technology to tackle the problem.

“So, together with my BT colleagues, I have come up with something that I believe can help.”

He said “similar GPS technology to Uber and Google Maps” could allow a phone user to opt in to a “remote tracking mechanism”.

The app could be up and running by Christmas (Photo: Shutterstock)

He added: “When activated it would automatically trigger an alert if they didn’t reach their destination within the expected time.

“The user’s named emergency contacts – usually family and friends – could then raise the alarm with the police if they could not establish the user’s whereabouts and safety.

“No one would be missing for hours, their whereabouts unknown. It would also allow a user to send an instant alert to the police, with just one touch.

“My colleagues at BT are now working on the technology and practicalities.”

How will the app work?

Users will be able to download a mobile phone app then enter their home address and other regular destinations.

Before walking the user would start the app, or call or text 888, which would give the expected journey time and complete tracking via GPS.

A message would be sent to the user at the time they were predicted to arrive home and a failure to respond would issue calls to emergency contacts and then the police.

A sign saying “SHE WAS JUST WALKING HOME 97%” is seen among the flowers and candles on Clapham Common where floral tributes were placed for Sarah Everard (Photo: Hollie Adams/Getty Images)

Jansen has indicated the not-for-profit service could be used by anyone fearful while out walking, not just women.

The project could reportedly cost as little as £50 million.

Why has the 888 number been criticised?

The 888 emergency number plans have been criticised as merely a “plaster”, and that the solution to tackling male violence does not lie with the increased surveillance of women.

Samantha Billingham, who launched her own support group to help domestic abuse survivors called SODA, tweeted: “Women could use the app to summon Police if they felt threatened. After the murder of Sarah Everard?

“Stop putting a plaster over things @pritipatel that need a bandage wrapped around to work and keep in place. Tackle the issue in hand!”

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said on Twitter: “Here’s a radical idea for you Priti – instead of tracking women’s movements as we go about our lives, how about the government actually tackles male violence instead?

“Only 1% of reported rapes result in a charge. That’s the problem, not us walking home.”

David Challen, domestic abuse campaigner, tweeted: “Rather than develop ideas to actually tackle male violence the Home Office think tracking women with an app is a solution?!

“Stop restricting women’s freedoms to accommodate male violence.”

A woman holds a placard reading “Text me when ur home” during a vigil held in memory of Sarah Everard on March 13, 2021 in Cardiff (Photo: Polly Thomas/Getty Images)

Former Chief Prosecutor Nazir Afzal also wrote: “Any strategy that requires the potential women victims to be tagged rather than the violent male perpetrator will fail.

“The cause of violence against women is a violent man, not a lone woman.”

He continued: “As several women have said Priti Patel’s 888 App will help up find their body.

“The most unsafe place for a woman remains her own home - 1 in 4 suffering abuse. Stranger attacks are thankfully rare. What does this app do to help them? Stop telling women what they “should/must” do.

“Focus on men who are the threat, prosecute them, disrupt them, get them to change.”

Regarding the app, the Women’s Equality Party (WEP) tweeted: “This is just another thing for women to do to try to keep themselves safe, another indication that the government think it’s women’s responsibility to avoid violence.

“We have to stop managing violence against women and girls and start ending it.”

In response to the tweet from WEP, one person wrote: “Agreed. Plus women and girls do this already via their friends and family: it doesn’t protect them. Focus on stopping male violence. Tackle the root of the problem.”

Another added: “Can men have an app that texts to check they haven’t assaulted anyone?”

Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens used his police issue handcuffs and warrant card to stage a fake arrest so he could kidnap 33-year-old Everard before he raped and murdered her.

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