Regular readers of this column will know the focus I have placed on women’s safety. In Parliament I have repeatedly called for standard determinate sentences (where you are automatically released at a point in your sentence) to be ended for rape, and for parole boards to always to be involved before a perpetrator is released. I also successfully campaigned for the establishment of a Nightingale Court in Kent, so that all victims caught in the Covid backlog of crime can see swifter justice, and to help cases with high risk of attrition, such as sexual violence.
In the wake of the Sarah Everard case, I carried out a local survey, as I wanted to hear from you – the community of Sevenoaks - on how we make our community safer. I was delighted to receive hundreds of responses and there were some key take away points which I have since been following up on; more visibility of police in key places; a dedicating women’s safety team; improved facilities at local train stations so that passengers feel safer, and improved CCTV and lighting on popular pathways.
In light of the results, I convened a meeting with Chief Inspector Mark Stubberfield, Kent Police & Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott, Sevenoaks District Council officers Sarah Robson and Kelly Webb, and Cabinet member Lesley Dyball so that we could work together to ensure women across the constituency feel safe and protected. Many points came from this discussion including sharing the data with all attendees so they can use it to inform their work and priorities, raising the concerns with the local train operator, producing a one stop advice page – which I am pleased has now been published on the SDC website, and can be found here: https://www.sevenoaks.gov.uk/info/20040/community_safety/596/violence_against_women_and_girls. This is a fantastic resource. It sets out sources of support for any victims of violence against women and girls - be it feeling unsafe, learning self-defence, or obtained free panic alarms.
Last week, I met with representatives from our local rail operator to follow up on the survey and discuss how we can make rail stations and trains safer for women, especially late at night - and I am once again pleased to report progress is underway. The train operator is taking the concerns raised very seriously and were able to update me on what they have done so far.
Firstly, they have agreed to upgrade the lighting on the platforms at Bat and Ball and Otford stations and are looking at the lighting in the car parks. Over the next two years, all older CCTV across the whole estate will be upgraded – this amounts to around 70% of all CCTV cameras currently in use. And, with safety very much in mind, they will be employing a specific safeguarding manager who will be responsible for all aspects of safety at stations and will work closely with the British Transport Police. A much welcome development
During our meeting I also raised the issue of staffing at stations at times when women may feel vulnerable, in particular Bat & Ball which is unstaffed and Otford where there are no staff after early evening. I am pleased the train operation has agreed to look into this, with the option to use mobile staff to patrol if incidents are reported. They are also determined to ensure that more staff are visible as a reassurance to passengers – which I know will make a big difference.
With the dark evenings now upon us, please do email my office at firstname.lastname@example.org, if you have any concerns about your safety locally. All women have a right to feel safe, and I am glad to say our brilliant Sevenoaks District Council, great local police and the local train operator are working with me, and for this community, to address current concerns.