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Government Faces Backlash Over “Bizarre” Plan To Put Undercover Police Officers In Nightclubs To Tackle Sexual Harassment

4 min read

MPs and women's groups have hit back at the government over plans to deploy plain-clothes police officers in bars and nightclubs in a bid “to provide further reassurance for women and girls”.

As part of an expansion of the ‘Project Vigilant’ pilot first trialled by the Thames Valley Police, undercover police could patrol nightlife hotspots once the economy reopens to help uniformed officers “identify predatory and suspicious offenders”.

The plan is part of a range of measures announced in response to widespread concerns raised following the death of Sarah Everard, who disappeared whilst walking home in south London earlier this month.

But the proposal has been met with scepticism by MPs and women’s groups, many of whom feel the government needs to do more to address women’s concerns.

“This is quite frankly a bizarre idea particularly when women’s faith in the police has been so damaged with recent events,” said Harriet Wistrich, director of the Centre for Women’s Justice.

“A woman is killed every three days in the UK," she continued. "Rape prosecutions are at an all-time low. We want perpetrators charged and prosecuted. And, we want the police and state agencies such as the CPS to take responsibility for failing to do so.”

Labour MP Stella Creasy, who has tabled an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill calling for misogyny to be classed as a hate crime, told PoliticsHome that ministers are “making decisions based on presumptions of where risky behaviour takes place”. 

“Any woman who's gone for a run recently in a park will tell you about sexual harassment," Creasy said. "I have a constituent Michelle Samaraweera, who was murdered and raped because she went out for a pint of milk late at night." 

“Club safety is important... but I don't think it's about the night time economy. 

“One of the reasons why we've been pushing for misogyny to be made a hate crime is to understand better where, when and how women are facing criminal acts such as assaults, violence and harassment.

"Then, we can be better at detecting and preventing it.”

Shadow safeguarding minister Jess Phillips also questioned the value of undercover police officers in nightclubs. 

“Why can't women inform uniformed officers and be believed, if they're being harassed?," she told Times Radio on Tuesday. 

“What are [the police] going to do? Because there isn't currently a law that stops us being harassed in the public realm.”

She continued: “Why didn't [the Prime Minister] suggest that we have a street harassment law that made it illegal for people to harass us and put it into this bill that he's got going through Parliament today? 

“He's got the perfect opportunity. I honestly don't understand."

Alongside Project Vigilant, the government has also announced that it is doubling the size of the Safer Streets fund, which aims to install better lighting and CCTV across the UK, to a total of £45 million.

The news came following a meeting of the Criminal Justice Taskforce last night, chaired by the Prime Minister, which is attended by ministers and senior officials.

Boris Johnson had convened the meeting following a weekend of tense clashes between police and those commemorating Sarah Everard during which many criticised the Met Police’s “heavy-handed” tactics.

“The horrific case of Sarah Everard has unleashed a wave of feeling about women not feeling safe at night,” Johnson said in a statement following the meeting. 

“We must do everything we can to ensure our streets are safe, and we are bringing in landmark legislation to toughen sentences and put more police on the streets.

"We are also now taking further steps to provide greater reassurance, such as providing better lighting and greater use of CCTV in parks and routes women may take on their walks home.

“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.”

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