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Keir Starmer promises bill to protect women and girls in wake of Sarah Everard killing

Andrew Woodcock
·3-min read

Keir Starmer has promised to introduce a Labour bill to protect women and girls in the wake of the death of Sarah Everard.

The Labour leader said that the 33-year-old’s abduction and killing as she walked home through Clapham in south London was a watershed moment for the UK on the scale of the deaths of Stephen Lawrence and Jamie Bulger.

The bill, to be published before next month’s Queen’s speech, would make it an offence to harass women on the street, increase sentences for rapists and stalkers and introduce “whole life” jail terms for those guilty of abduction and sexual assault and murder of a stranger.

It would end the anomaly that sees men convicted of killing their partner at home receiving sentences as much as 10 years shorter than those who murder a stranger in the street.

The pledge came in an interview with The Sunday Times, in which Sir Keir also pronounced himself a monarchist and a patriot, but also confirmed that he does not believe in God.

This would make him the first prime minister to be a declared atheist if he reaches 10 Downing Street.

In a swipe at the prime minister Boris Johnson, Starmer said that he regards the core values in political leadership are “principle and integrity and dignity”, and added: “He doesn’t have them.”

“And I don’t want to be Boris Johnson,” said the Labour leader. “I’m not like Boris Johnson in any respect. There’s almost nothing we have in common.”

In an implicit criticism of the Johnson government, Starmer said it was “astonishing that in 2021 we do not have a comprehensive piece of legislation” to protect women and girls.

Mr Johnson has been coming under increasing pressure to publish his long-promised strategy on tackling violence against women and girls.

Discussing the legislation which Labour is drafting, Starmer said: “The more I turn it over in my mind the more obvious it is. I don’t care whether I’m a supporter of it, or the Labour Party, or it’s cross-party, or even the government takes it on. Because we can’t go on like this.”

Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens, 48, has been charged with the kidnap and murder of Ms Everard whose death led to an outpouring of grief, with women gathering for a vigil on Clapham Common, where flowers were piled high around the bandstand near to the spot where she disappeared.

Controversy over heavy-handed policing of the vigil led to calls for Met commissioner Cressida Dick to resign.

But Sir Keir said that views on Dick’s handling of the event should not distract from the more important issues raised by Ms Everard’s death.

“Instead of us talking about what women in Clapham wanted us to talk about, we started a discussion about Cressida Dick, which wasn’t the issue,” he said.

“The Sarah Everard case is a Stephen Lawrence or Jamie Bulger moment. This could be a chance to actually do something.”

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