'She did nothing wrong' - MPs admonish how actions of men 'dictate our lives and our choices' in light of Sarah Everard disappearance

Women do not feel safe on Britain’s streets and the actions of men dictate their lives and their choices, MPs have said, after Parliament fell silent today as the nearly 120 names of women killed in the last year were read, with a poignant tribute to missing York woman Sarah Everard.

MPs were due to debate International Women’s Day, but following the outpouring of anger and sadness as further details emerged about the disappearance of 33-year-old Miss Everard in London a week ago, the mood was sombre as politicians from both sides of the chamber demanded changes were made.

Reclaim the Night events, first seen during the terror of the Yorkshire Ripper, where women gather to take back a feeling of safety in their local areas, have been organised across the country including in Sheffield and Leeds.

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And the mother of murdered Hull student Libby Squire urged men to step in to help lone women who seemed vulnerable,

A missing sign outside Poynders Court on the A205 in Clapham, during the continuing search for Sarah Everard. Photo: PA

A serving Metropolitan Police officer, who is in his 40s, is being questioned on suspicion of Miss Everard’s kidnap and murder.

Leeds councillor Al Garthwaite, who helped organise the first Reclaim the Night event in Leeds in 1977, said: “We marched down the street at 10.30 at night, chanting ‘however we dress, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no’ and ‘women unite, reclaim the night’ because we were just really angry, and we were not going to put up with it any longer.”

Speaking on Woman's Hour on BBC Radio 4, Ms Garthwaite recalled a woman from Bradford telling her at the time that “nice women don’t get raped”, and she said: “[Reclaim the Night] is a movement that's carried on and is sadly still very necessary, even today.”

She added: “I'm sad that it's still so necessary, but I'm glad that women have not given up, that we're still asserting our right to have freedom to do these things.”

Miss Everard’s local MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy attacked the “disgusting victim shaming” following her disappearance, which many have likened to that seen of Peter Sutcliffe’s victims in the 1970s.

Ms Ribeiro-Addy told the Commons: “Sarah did nothing wrong, all she did was walk home.

“It should not be luck that sees us home safely at night, it should be our fundamental right to be respected by all.”

Conservative former minister Maria Miller opened the Commons debate and said: "Sarah did everything to avoid danger and, let’s be very clear, women are not the problem here.

“But for many women this news story will bring back memories of threatening situations they have found themselves in through no fault of their own; being sexually harassed on the streets, walking home from meeting friends, anonymous threats of physical violence on social media, sexually assaulted in plain sight in rush hour on public transport on the way to work.

“Many choose not to talk about this, choose not to report it for fear of not being believed or taken seriously – but the research shows these sorts of events are parts of women’s everyday life and that is why what happened to Sarah Everard feels so very close to home.”

Fellow Conservative former minister Andrea Leadsom said: “Today I feel pretty angry and sad. Angry that women walking home in the dark have to be scared of the person walking closely behind them.

“And saddened because for far too many women even getting home safely doesn’t mean they’re safe from harm. I say to all colleagues right across the House: let’s never let party politics get in the way of protecting women and girls.”

While Birmingham Yardley MP Jess Phillips expressed her distress at the prospect of adding Miss Everard’s name to the list of women who had been killed and where a man had been convicted or charged as the primary perpetrator in the case, which she has read out every year at the annual International Women's Day debate.

Ms Phillips said: “In this place we count what we care about. We count the vaccines done, the number of people on benefits, we rule or oppose based on a count and we obsessively track that data.

“We love to count data of our own popularity. However, we don’t currently count dead women.

“No Government study is done into the patterns every year of the data of victims of domestic abuse who are killed, die by suicide or die suddenly.

“Dead women is a thing we’ve all just accepted as part of our daily lives. Dead women is just one of those things.

“Killed women are not vanishingly rare. Killed women are common.”

She told the Commons: “There has been much debate at what I would say at the end of the list. Her name rings out across all of our media.

“We have all prayed that the name of Sarah Everard would never be on any list.

“Let’s pray every day and work every day to make sure nobody’s name ends up on this list again.”

Lisa Squire, whose daughter Libby was murdered in Hull in 2019, urged men to step in if they saw women in danger in public.

Responding on Twitter to a question over what men could do in the current climate, she said: “As Libby’s mum can I ask that if ever you see a lone female who is obviously vulnerable, offer to wait with her, offer to call someone for her, offer help. If she refuses help (and likely she will due to fear) call the police. The police WILL respond.”

Meanwhile, former MP for Dewsbury Paula Sherriff shared how a man who had left swastikas at her office on more than one occasion, only for her to be told by police he was “having trouble sleeping”.

And Conservative MP Nus Ghani said the actions of men dictate women’s lives and choices.

She said: “It’s with a heavy heart that we are recognising International Women’s Day today and the mood of the House has once again been dictated by the actions of men, not by the achievements of women.

“That’s the reality of our day-to-day lives. It is the actions of men that dictate our lives and our choices.”

Boris Johnson said he was “shocked and deeply saddened” by Miss Everard’s disappearance, adding: “We must work fast to find all the answers to this horrifying crime.”

In the statement released today, Miss Everard’s family said: “Our beautiful daughter Sarah was taken from us and we are appealing for any information that will help to solve this terrible crime.

“Sarah was bright and beautiful – a wonderful daughter and sister. She was kind and thoughtful, caring and dependable. She always put others first and had the most amazing sense of humour.

“She was strong and principled and a shining example to us all. We are very proud of her and she brought so much joy to our lives.

“We would like to thank our friends and family for all their support during this awful time and we would especially like to thank Sarah’s friends who are working tirelessly to help.

“We are so grateful to the police and would like to thank them for all they are doing. We are now pleading for additional help from the public.

“Please come forward and speak to the police if you have any information. No piece of information is too insignificant. Thank you.”