After the disturbing news of Sarah Everard’s kidnap and murder and the subsequent arrest of serving police officer Wayne Couzens—who appeared in court to face those charges today—the government has made the baffling announcement that, in an effort to make women feel safer in public spaces, they’ll be increasing the number of undercover officers in places like pubs and nightclubs.
The news is particularly surprising given the police’s highly controversial and heavy-handed response to the vigil and protests held in Ms Everard’s name this weekend at Clapham Common. Yesterday, March 15, protestors gathered in Parliament Square, Trafalgar Square and parts of the West End to protest the way police handled the vigil. Four arrests were made and two fines were issued.
Social commentators have also reminded the authorities that the use of undercover officers is in itself controversial given the so-called ‘spy-cops’ scandal, which came to light in the 2000s when a number of officers were found to have wrought devastation on the lives of the duped women they’d used as their cover.
This is even more concerning given the recent Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill 2020, which essentially made undercover officers immune from prosecution. The announcement from Downing Street comes after a meeting of the Government’s Crime and Justice Taskforce chaired by the Prime Minister, with the plans expected to be rolled out immediately under the name ‘Project Vigilant’.
In addition to the undercover police presence, uniformed officers will patrol hotspots as people leave bars and nightclubs at closing time. There’ll also be a doubling of the ‘Safer Streets’ fund to increase funding for better lighting and CCTV in communities to the sound of £45m.
Speaking on the decision, Boris Johnson commented: “The horrific case of Sarah Everard has unleashed a wave of feeling about women not feeling safe at night. We must do everything we can to ensure our streets are safe. Ultimately, we must drive out violence against women and girls and make every part of the criminal justice system work to better protect and defend them.”