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BT is still working on its controversial 888 'Walk Me Home' app to protect women

The £50million women's safety app proposed last year was backed by home secretary Priti Patel but criticised by campaigners.

"999 needs to work for us," says Jamie Klingler, co-founder of Reclaim These Streets. Image: Unsplash / Daria Nepriakhina

BT is still working on its controversial £50million app to protect women walking home and says talks with the Home Office are ongoing.

The 888 ‘Walk Me Home’ service was proposed in October following the murders of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa, which BT’s chief executive Philip Jansen said filled him with “outrage and disgust”.

The idea was criticised by politicians and women’s safety campaigners, who said it focused on protecting women rather than tackling the root causes of violence against women, and that such apps already existed. Jansen defended the idea, saying it could act as a “small deterrent”.

And it had another supporter in home secretary Priti Patel, who told the Daily Mail in October it was “exactly the kind of innovative scheme which would be good to get going as soon as we can”. She added: “I’m now looking at it with my team and liaising with BT.”

The app, which original proposals estimated could be ready by Christmas, would reportedly allow users to opt in to a GPS tracking system that would trigger an alert to a fast responder team if they did not reach their destination on time. 

A BT spokesperson told The Big Issue: “Our technical development teams are now working on developing proposals and we will continue to discuss this with the Home Office.”

They added: “Our intention is for this to be a collaborative effort between government, telecommunications industry, key stakeholders such as the police and Ofcom and, of course, groups campaigning on the personal safety of women and other individuals.” 

Reacting to the proposed app last year, Jamie Klingler, co-founder of Reclaim These Streets, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Instead of spending £50 million on this new fandangled idea – which is really an old idea – 999 needs to work for us.”

Klingler said the fact it was still in development was “yet another way this government fails women.”

She told The Big Issue: “Creating a private system because the one that is in place isn’t good enough is laughable – especially when 888 could be used to track, stalk and further victimise women.

“Seeing how well track and trace went, I personally love the idea of undertrained incompetent men having my personal details and whereabouts.”

The Women’s Equality Party called the proposed service “just another thing for women to do to try to keep themselves safe,” saying that it was indicative of the government’s belief that it is women’s responsibility to avoid violence.

And Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner suggested instead of tracking women’s movements, “how about the government actually tackles male violence instead?”.

Following the criticism last year, Jansen appeared on Radio 4’s Today programme where he was asked about claims the app would not stop violence against women in the streets. He said: “No, I think it’s possible that if it’s known that people are using a triple eight service, that it will form some form of small deterrent.

“If it would stop one attack, one murder, one abduction, I think it’s worth it.”

When it was suggested the app would again put the onus on women to protect themselves rather than making an effort to stop male violence, he replied: “I completely agree with that and this is just one small idea which I think can help.”

Klingler says that neither she, nor Reclaim These Streets – the campaign group she co-founded to “make ‘text me when you get home’ a thing of the past” – had been contacted by BT or the Home Office regarding the project. 

The Home Office declined to comment. 

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