Sunday, March 21, 2021

Safe in the Streets—Sarah Everard

 Zoë Sharp


On March 3, at around nine o’clock in the evening, marketing executive Sarah Everard set out to walk back to Brixton Hill from a friend’s house near Clapham Common in South London. It was a journey that should have taken her less than an hour.


A week later, on March 10, her remains were found in woodland near Ashford in Kent. She was identified via dental records.


The discovery of Sarah’s body came the day after a man was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping. He was subsequently charged with her murder, and will go to trial in late October this year.


The speed with which the alleged perpetrator was caught for this crime is surprising when you consider that the man was, at the time of his arrest, a serving Metropolitan Police officer with the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection unit. The PaDP is one of the few routinely armed branches of the British police, and you might expect, therefore, that their personnel would undergo psychological scrutiny that was perhaps stricter than other divisions.


The murder of Sarah has been a catalyst for protest about violence towards women in general. The UK Home Secretary, Priti Patel, said that “every woman should feel safe to walk on our streets without fear of harassment or violence.” She has announced new regulations are under consideration to protect women against sexual harassment in public by making it a specially defined criminal offence. At present it falls under the umbrella of ‘street harassment’, which is a cover-all term, encompassing the honking horn of a passing vehicle to everything nasty from there on in.


It’s a sad fact that you are more likely to be prosecuted for dropping litter than you are for sexually harassing a woman in public in the UK. A horrifying number of women admit to being the victim of this kind of intimidation and abuse, usually by a complete stranger.


And that stranger could be anyone.


Because, also in the news this week was the case of Emma Homer, who was walking home one evening in July last year when she was verbally and physically assaulted by a man who screamed obsenities at her as he tried to wrestle her to the ground.


Emma’s attacker turned out to be Oliver Banfield, an off-duty probationary police officer with West Midlands police. He not only admitted the charges but the court heard that he used the techniques taught to him during police training to try to take his victim down. (She escaped, by the way.) Banfield was ordered to pay £500 compensation. He was also given a 14-week curfew, banning him from leaving home from 7pm until 7am.


(Please excuse me if I don’t find that a very severe punishment during a national stay-at-home lockdown.)


Banfield’s legal representative argued against a community service sentence, apparently saying it would be ‘difficult’ for him to work with criminals.


Perhaps he should have thought of that before he became one?


Labour MP, Harriet Harman, said Emma’s experience “must have been terrifying for her but no prison sentence. This is proof, if any is needed, that [the] system fails women and protects men.”


When I started learning self-defence, one of the first lessons I absorbed was to avoid putting myself in a situation where using those techniques became necessary. But why does the onus have to be on the woman not to make herself a victim? Why isn’t it on the man not to make himself the perpetrator?


When, in the wake of the Sarah Everard tragedy, Baroness Jenny Jones suggested in the House of Lords that introducing a curfew for men would “make women a lot safer” scores of people frothed at the mouth in response. Not that Baroness Jones was expecting to be taken seriously but, as The Guardian’s Arwa Mahdawi commented, she was ‘pointing out double standards’.


After Sarah’s initial disappearance, the police in London were advising women “not to go out alone” and nobody seemed to think this was anything out of the ordinary.


(Not, of course, that staying at home is any safer, as one in three women in the UK will experience domestic abuse during their lifetime.)


But, as Arwa Mahdawi puts it: “If you’re up in arms about the idea of a male curfew, perhaps you should think critically about why you’re not as angry about all the ways in which women are told to adapt their behaviour in response to male violence.”


This week’s Word of the Week is codicology, meaning the study of manuscript books as physical objects rather than for the text they contain. It comes from the Latin codex, meaning a notebook or book, and the Greek ­–logia. Codicologists also study book cataloguing, manuscript collecting, and the history of libraries.



  1. I hadn't read about the second case. The sentence seems ridiculous. Was there any connection between Emma Homer and her assailant? Either way, it seems a straightforward case of criminal assault. Is that the sort of usual sentence one gets for that in England?

    1. From what I can gather, there was no connection between Emma Horner and her assailant. He just decided he didn't like the way she was looking at when when he accosted her. His excuse that he was drunk holds no water for me. If you know you become objectionable when you drink, and you choose to drink to that level anyway, then you are as responsible for your actions as if you are sober, to my mind.

  2. Oh, Zoë, how these stories enrage me. Blaming the victim is a world-wide practice, almost exclusively used against women. Men, who call themselves the stronger sex, are allowed to think they can control women, but they are not expected to be able to control themselves? You undoubtedly have heard that , just this week, police in US initially thought it acceptable to say that a man who murdered eight people, six of them women, was “having a bad day.” He excuses himself by blaming his “sex addiction.” I won’t name the cure my firebrand of a grandmother would prescribe. ARRGGHH!

    1. Yes, I read that story, too, Annamaria. Also just out this morning is a report on the 'grim level of sexual abuse claims against the Metropolitan police:

  3. Britain’s top cop is Dame Cressida Dick, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. When a peaceful vigil for Sarah Everard was organised on Clapham Common Met Storm Troopers knocked women the ground and dragged them away in handcuffs.
    Cressida Dick should resign. Alas she is waiting to be fired.
    Her email address is :
    Her direct line, supposedly, is :
    44 207 7230 3737.
    Let us encourage her to wait no longer and to bugger off into pensioned oblivion now.

    1. (That comment was from John Lawton, btw, who for some reason was unable to post.)

  4. I've had trouble posting here, too! I hope it works this time since this story grabbed me. Awful. 'She was just walking home' should not be with the onus of self-protection but sadly it is.

    1. We don't seem to have come very far down the road of civilisation, do we?

  5. Replies
    1. Thanks, Stan. I felt the same way. And the fact that police officers appear to have been responsible for both these attacks somehow makes them more awful...

  6. Frankly I'm fed up with the state of our Civilized Western World. EVERY DAY there is more in the news showing disregard at the highest (and lowest) levels of government for women. They are treated as chattels and it infuriates me that my granddaughters must be prepared to deal with this at ALL cultural and societal levels. Race, gender, religion, national origin are are differences exploited these days for egregious political purposes. Otherwise, all's well with the world.