Well, well – Home Secretary Jacqui Smith seems to have made a right mess of talking about the dangers of walking out at night.
This was in fact the topic of second newspaper column I ever wrote. It was for the Ham & High, back in 2000 and started with a personal anecdote:
A man followed me home from the tube last Wednesday night. It was about 11.30pm. He had been in my carriage from Warren Street, got off at Highgate, was behind me on the first escalator, behind me on the second escalator up to Archway Road – and as I headed up the hill, I was conscious that so did he.
The few people who had started in the same direction, faded away within the first 100 metres – so it was just he and I. I crossed the road – at a point where the pavement narrowed so it would look like the natural thing to do. So did he. When I came to the turn I needed to take – so did he – albeit once again on the opposite side. I was ready for flight – was looking for which houses had lights on, which doors were near. Suddenly he ran across the road towards me and then, with a spurt of speed, arrived on the pavement ahead of me and accelerated away.
Once he was ahead of me and I had him properly in my sights, I felt OK. And then, of course, he crossed the road and went up a drive, got his keys out of his pocket, opened his front door and went home to hearth and family. He had obviously run to get ahead of me to stop me thinking he was following me. Men and women reading this will probably recognise this situation – a woman thinking she’s being followed and a man knowing that she’s thinking he is following her. That’s the situation we have arrived at because we feel unsafe, going home late at night – whether we are or not. (Continued here)
That night, things ended safely for me – as they have indeed on numerous journeys around London, often late at night returning from meetings and events in previously unfamiliar locations.
Yet there are many victims of crime – and even more who have their lives limited and curtailed by their fears of crime (sometimes well founded, sometimes not – but in both cases the fear of crime feels just as real, is just as unpleasant and can have just as limiting an effect on people’s lives). So the question of crime – both actual and fear of – is one I’m happy to debate and discuss – and was/is a major campaigning point of mine both on the London Assembly and then in Parliament.
Jacqui Smith though has got the issue all wrong. Not once, but twice she’s sounded as if she doesn’t understand at all how the rest of us live – saying that no real people are ever out walking in Hackney after midnight (hello? have you looked?) and then that she never walks somewhere she doesn’t already know (hello again? I can’t imagine living my life never walking somewhere that I don’t already know – how do you manage to only walk somewhere you’ve already driven, cycled etc through?).
One slip of the tongue – fair enough, we all can mangle a word, leave out a word or fluff a line. But to do it twice and at some length – sorry Jacqui, you’ve really messed up. And you’d be better off admitting that, rather than have the rather bizarre attempt to rescue matters by having your spokesperson ring the media talking about your late-night kebab-buying habits.