'We listened': Officer on Met's actions a year after Sarah Everard's murder

Chief Inspector Lisa Butterfield. Picture: Ken Mears

Chief Inspector Lisa Butterfield. Picture: Ken Mears - Credit: Archant

Thursday marks a year since the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard by former Metropolitan police officer Wayne Couzens. 

The incident shook trust in the force and sparked a conversation about the safety of women on the nation’s streets. 

A survey carried out by this newspaper at the time found 64 per cent of women in east London often or usually felt unsafe on the streets. 

A year on, the Recorder spoke to Ch Insp Lisa Butterfield, the Met East Area Borough Command Unit's (BCU's) head of the neighbourhood policing, to find out what is being done to keep women safe in Havering. 

One of the major initiatives brought forward by the Met locally is the walk and talk programme, in which members of the public sign up to join female officers on tours of a particular area, explaining where and why they feel unsafe. 

The policy was introduced to the east area – Havering, as well as Barking and Dagenham and Redbridge – in November last year, offering a way for women to report that they do not feel safe in an area, even if a crime has not necessarily been committed. 

She said going on a walk and talk had a strong impact on her as somebody used to walking the streets with the deterrent of a police uniform. 

“I was really conscious that I didn’t see the streets the way they saw them and I certainly am not exposed to the behaviour they are,” she said. 

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“It really hit me how my police perspective is different, which really made me feel passionate about this work.” 

Information from the walk and talks, as well as from the StreetSafe reporting app, are fed into discussions between the police and the local authority.

Ch Insp Butterfield said Havering Council had done “an awful lot of work in night-time economies” to invest in street wardens and training for staff in pubs and clubs. 

More broadly, the Met says it has deployed more officers on high-visibility patrols in known hotspot areas for violence against women and girls. 

It has also established specialist Predatory Offenders’ Units, which have arrested more than 2,500 suspects since last November, of which more than half of cases were related to domestic abuse. 

Ch Insp Butterfield said the measures were a “reflection of the fact that we have listened to the anger that came out” after Ms Everard’s murder. 

The history and future of Met walk and talks

The initial idea for walk and talks, which were trialled in Clapham where Ms Everard was kidnapped, came from Insp Becky Perkins on the Central South Neighbourhoods Team. 

She wanted to help women feel confident and safe on the streets, so she enlisted 25 neighbourhood officers to buddy up with women for patrols of their usual routes. 

"We know there are many women out there who don’t feel completely safe walking London’s streets and we want those women to know we are here for you, we are listening and we are doing all we can to make the streets safer,” said Insp Perkins. 

On International Women’s Day next Tuesday, March 8, the Met is officially rolling out the walk and talk scheme across all 12 BCUs. 

Across the East Area BCU, 20 walk and talks have taken place so far and 54 reports have been made through the StreetSafe app. 

Ch Insp Butterfield said there had been “no surprises” regarding the places people feel unsafe, with the majority of reports in Havering coming from Hornchurch and Romford town centre. 

‘Every woman should do self-defence': Hornchurch on women’s safety 

In Hornchurch town centre, people said they felt relatively safe, but were concerned about other parts of the capital. 

Lifelong Hornchurch resident Andrea Long said she felt about as safe as she has always done. 

“It’s quite hard,” she said. “I grew up going out in Hornchurch and it has always felt quite safe." 

Andrea Long

Andrea Long - Credit: Daniel Gayne

She said her feelings were “a bit different” because she is only usually out with her dog, Jess. 

“Obviously having a big dog, it sort of helps, and to be honest, apart from walking her I don’t really go out as much socialising," she said. 

Emily Choury said that learning self-defence meant she did not feel the same fear as some of her friends. 

Emily Choury

Emily Choury - Credit: Daniel Gayne

“I’m different to other women who were really scared by it, because I faced some stuff that was quite scary and I box as a way of feeling more control of everything,” she said. 

“But it's terrifying, all my friends are naturally a little bit more scared than they should be.” 

Emily, who started boxing six years ago, said “every woman should do self-defence at some point”. 

“God help anyone who attacks me,” she added. 

Lisa Cook said the police presence in Hornchurch meant “we all feel quite safe here”. 

“Everyone sort of knows everyone here,” she said. 

Lisa Cook

Lisa Cook - Credit: Daniel Gayne

However, she said she would not go to Romford at night and would be concerned about going into the city. 

She said: “I feel vulnerable because they have got quite a problem with drugs and alcohol.” 

She added: “We have our problems, all areas do, don’t they? Whether you are in Hornchurch or Knightsbridge.  

“But in the every day we are okay here because there is always someone on foot.”