Plans to send plainclothes police into British nightclubs in the wake of a high-profile murder case have been criticised as “laughable” by policing experts and rights campaigners.
The UK government announced the measure, alongside plans to improve public lighting, on Monday (local time).
It came as the death of Sarah Everard, 33, and police’s handling of a memorial vigil, where they tussled with mourners, fuelled a national debate over women’s safety and criticism of police.
Critics said far more wide-ranging action was needed to tackle the root causes of gendered violence across society and rebuild damaged trust between women and police forces.
“Undercover officers in bars is laughable,” said Susannah Fish, the former chief constable of Nottinghamshire Police, who described the move as “eye-catching PR of no substance”.
“Sarah Everard had not been in a bar and was simply walking home, as were thousands of women who have suffered harassment, sexual assault, verbal abuse whilst in public spaces, and will be in the future.”
A spokesman for the Home Office, Britain’s interior ministry, was not immediately available for comment.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council said it was working with government to understand the details of the proposals.
‘I cannot understand why any woman would trust it’
Ms Everard, a marketing executive, disappeared while walking home from a friend’s house on March 3. Her body was later found in woods about 80 kilometres away in south-east England.
Serving London police officer Wayne Couzens, 48, has appeared in court charged with her kidnap and murder.
A plea hearing date was set for July 9 and a provisional trial for October 25.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the new measures to boost police presence in night-time bars and clubs and improve the safety of public spaces with measures such as better lighting and CCTV would “provide greater reassurance” to women.
But they focus on the “symptom” rather than “the cure” to societal norms that normalise men’s violence against women, said Deniz Ugur, deputy director at the End Violence Against Women Coalition.
“I cannot understand why any woman would trust it,” added Nikki, a member of Sisters Uncut, a feminist direct action group that clashed with police at the London vigil, who declined to give her full name due to security concerns.
“It is incredibly concerning that anyone would be putting any extra powers into the police’s hands at the moment, because it is very evident that they cannot be tasked with keeping women safe and they cannot be trusted.”
Women’s rights campaigners and experts called for action including mandatory school education on sexual consent, campaigns to target rape myths, more money for women’s support organisations and for misogyny to be made a hate crime.