There is “more” to do when it comes to improving safety for women on Britain’s streets, a minister has said.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said that while new measures are being introduced, it was appalling that women still suffered fear, intimidation and threats.
Speaking on Sky News Mr Raab said: “I think it is appalling that women still suffer the fear, the intimidation, the threats – and I say that as a son, a husband and a brother of a sister.
“And that’s why we are increasing the number of police by 20,000, we’ve heard new measures to make the streets safer with CCTV and lighting overnight, we’ve got two bits of legislation going through the House of Commons to increase the sentencing.
“I was a justice minister twice – I’ve been looking at those issues, I worked on the regional increase in stalking sentences. But clearly we’ve got to do more.”
Meanwhile Government adviser Nimco Ali described the ongoing political debate over violence against women following the death of Sarah Everard as a “watershed moment”.
Ms Ali, who advises ministers on combating sexual violence against women and girls, told Good Morning Britain that things were changing.
She added: “We have to be able to work with government and I do think this is a watershed moment, where the Prime Minister, Home Secretary and Justice Secretary are all listening.
“I know how we can be critical on a day-to-day basis, but I honestly think there’s a massive opportunity for us to really come together and really ensure that all those voices are at the heart of the new legislation.”
Their comments come after Downing Street said it was taking a series of “immediate steps” to improve security, including the rollout across the country of pilots of a programme where uniformed and plain clothes officers seek to actively identify predatory and suspicious offenders in the night-time economy.
Dubbed “Project Vigilant”, the programme can involve officers attending areas around clubs and bars undercover, along with increased police patrols as people leave at closing time.
Other steps announced by Downing Street include a doubling of the Safer Streets fund, which provides neighbourhood measures such as better lighting and CCTV, to £45 million.
Mr Raab said there needed to be a “zero tolerance” approach to the “very small minority” who harass women on the country’s streets.
Asked on BBC Breakfast about how the Government would tackle street harassment, he said: “We need to have zero tolerance, of course all of us need to bring our children up the right way, make sure we are promoting education and equality about this.”
Hundreds of protesters gathered in Parliament Square on Tuesday evening to demonstrate against the Government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which will give police more powers to restrict protests.
It is the third night of action in the capital following widespread criticism of the Metropolitan Police’s handling of the vigil for Ms Everard at Clapham Common on Saturday.
Four people were arrested and two received fixed penalty notices over Monday’s demonstration, but a Met spokesman said he was not aware of any issues on Tuesday.
Protesters chanted “kill the bill” as some carried banners, including one which said “the right to protest is a human right”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has backed Met chief Dame Cressida Dick, following calls for her resignation in the wake of the vigil, where crowds gathered to remember the 33-year-old marketing executive.
Serving Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens, 48, has been charged with her kidnapping and murder.
Mr Johnson said that Sir Thomas Winsor, chief inspector of constabulary, would be carrying out a review into the way the event was policed.
Mr Raab said getting the balance right between peaceful protests and public protection during the pandemic was a “thorny issue”.
Speaking to Sky News, he added: “The concern would be if we made exceptions for one or another, however compelling the case was, that we would start to see more widespread disobedience or non-compliance with the rules and then what would that mean for public health?
“So that’s the very fine line we’ve got to navigate, but I think overwhelmingly, notwithstanding the concerns in this particular case – and they are very serious, which is why we’ve got two independent reviews – the police have done a very good and very sensitive job in policing this pandemic.”
Sir Peter Fahy, former chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, said police are being put in an “impossible” position over how to handle protests alongside coronavirus legislation.
He added: “What that [the vigil] shows is that protest is a fundamental human right when people feel very strongly about an issue.
“The police were put in an impossible situation where coronavirus legislation fundamentally erodes that right.”
The Clapham Common vigil had originally been organised by the protest group Reclaim These Streets, before it was forced to cancel after police said it would be in breach of coronavirus rules.
Hundreds of women have left floral tributes in the park near to the route where Ms Everard, who went missing while walking home from a friend’s flat on March 3, walked.
Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, visited Clapham Common on Tuesday morning, laying a floral tribute and card at the bandstand.
In the card, Ms Rayner said she offered her “sincerest condolences” on behalf of the Labour Party to Ms Everard’s family, friends and loved ones “at this time of unimaginable grief”.
Ms Rayner’s message also said she was “proud to stand in solidarity” with women who “are making their voices heard, sharing stories about what they have suffered and demanding change”.