Police response to Sabina Nessa's death 'reminiscent of response to Yorkshire Ripper'

Hundreds attended a vigil to honour Sabina Nessa on Friday night. Credit: PA
  • Words by ITV News Multimedia Producer Elisa Menendez

A campaigner has claimed the police's public response to tragedies like the murder of Sabina Nessa is reminiscent of the way they acted when the Yorkshire Ripper carried out a spate of brutal killings in the 1970s.

Co-founder of Reclaim These Streets, Anna Birley, said urging women to change their behaviour to stay safe is "lazy" and an example of the "misogyny" which "pervades" society.

Ms Birley spoke as hundreds attended a vigil in memory of 28-year-old Ms Nessa who was killed as she made the five-minute walk to meet a friend at a pub in Kidbrooke, south-east London last Friday.

A 38-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of Ms Nessa’s murder and released under investigation.

Separately, the Met Police have released CCTV footage of a man they would like to speak to in relation to the case.  

In the wake of the death of the primary school teacher - who was described as a “beautiful, kind, caring soul” - the spotlight has again been shone on the issue of tackling violence against women and girls. 

Members of the public attend a vigil in memory of Sabina Nessa. Credit: Jonathan Brady/PA

Six months after the public protested for safer streets following the abduction and murder of Sarah Everard, Ms Birley said little has changed and believes not much will until authorities stop placing the onus on women to do more to protect themselves.

The campaigner told ITV News: “Partly, it’s lazy. It’s easier to tell a woman to stay home for her own good than it is to really tackle the cultural problems - the misogyny that pervades our public institutions, the issues in our laws - that’s a lot more work.

“A minimal amount of funding has been promised for things like street lighting, but a) it’s yet to be delivered and b) if the answer was as simple as lights, then we’d have solved the problem of violence against women decades ago,” she added.

Sabina Nessa's sister breaks down in tears as she pays tribute to her "beautiful" sister

Ms Birley, a Labour councillor for Thurlow Park, continued that the way the Metropolitan Police have “acted has been reminiscent of how the police responded when the Yorkshire Ripper was loose in the '70s.

“It’s to tell women to change their behaviour to stay safe, rather than doing the really hard work of tackling the root,” she added.

A recent report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) acknowledged police forces have made vast improvements to tackle the issue – but that much more still needs to be done. It said it cannot be achieved without more investment and support.

Greenwich Council said more than 200 personal alarms were handed out to women in two days around the area where Ms Nessa was found dead.

Ms Birley said though the initiative is “well-meaning”, she added: “Spotting the signs of misogyny and tackling the culture that enables it is more important than rape alarms after the worst has already happened.”

Annie Gibbs, an organiser of the candlelit vigil held in honour of Ms Nessa, agreed the government must now place more focus on perpetrator strategies – “especially as another life has been taken”.

Many lit a candle in memory of the 28-year-old teacher Credit: PA

Ms Gibbs, vice-chair of the Kidbrooke Forum, said she was compelled to organise the vigil out of “deep sadness” for Ms Nessa’s family and frustration at a lack of public and media attention around the case.

“At the time, no one was talking about this,” she said.

“I felt like her voice needed to be heard. Her life matters and she really truly deserves to be honoured.

“She didn’t deserve for her life to be taken in the way that it was and I feel that it’s really important for us to stand together and put some respect on her name. She was a human being."

“It’s very widely spoken about that Black and Asian women don’t get the same energy from national support - and that’s definitely what we saw right here,” she added.

Police have released CCTV footage of a man they would like to speak to in connection with the case

“She was somebody’s daughter, somebody’s sister, cousin, somebody’s friend. That shouldn’t be treated any differently to any other woman depending on her race.”

Ms Gibbs said Ms Nessa’s murder has rocked the close-knit community, as Kidbrooke Village is “usually a very safe place” and incidents like this “just don’t happen where we live”. 

But the community has not allowed the tragedy to divide them, she said, and instead have come together to support each other in “really beautiful ways”.  

Ms Nessa’s sister Jebina Yasmin Islam said “there are no words to describe how we are feeling as a family at the moment” and urged everyone to “please keep safe”.

The case was raised during a debate at the House of Commons on Wednesday, where safeguarding minister Rachel Maclean told MPs: “Every woman who loses their life is one woman too much and we are devastated to hear of the loss of the life of Sabina Nessa. Our hearts go out to the family.

Women gather at Sabina Nessa's vigil.

“This is a government that is passing legislation, setting out actions and tackling these horrific crimes and we are determined to see a reduction in them.”

In a statement, the Metropolitan Police said: "We are deeply shocked and saddened by the murder of Sabina Nessa. Our priority right now is finding the person responsible for this horrific crime and securing justice for Sabina’s family.

"Tackling violence against women and girls is an absolute priority for the Met.

"Every day our officers are working with partners across the capital to improve safety in our public spaces and to tackle violence against women and girls.

"We wholeheartedly agree that women should not have to change their behaviour and should be able to go about their business, feeling safe, any time of day or night.

"These appalling crimes have no place in our society. We are determined to bring the perpetrators to justice, while improving safety for everyone in London."

The Met said it has established Predatory Offenders’ Units across London to arrest and charge those who carry out violence - much of it domestic and sexual violence - and arrested 2,100 suspects since last November.

"We have also stepped up patrols of open spaces across London and transport hubs, using local and central resources, to increase police presence where it is needed in key hot spot locations," the force added.

Police urged anyone with information about the man seen in CCTV footage, walking through Peglar Square, Kidbrooke, on Friday, to get in touch 0208 721 4266 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.