A new emergency number to help protect lone women could be in operation by Christmas.
The ‘walk me home service’ is being developed in response to public outrage over the murder of Sarah Everard.
It would allow the vulnerable to have their journeys tracked, triggering an alert if they failed to reach home in time.
Women could also use the mobile app – potentially with the number 888 – to summon police if they felt threatened.
Priti Patel, pictured, has authorised a plan to start a phone number and app which could be used to summon help to women walking home who are feeling threatened
The phone number may be 888 and can be used to provide emergency assistance for women who feel threatened
The new phone number is a response to the brutal murder of Sarah Everard who was raped and killed by a serving member of the Metropolitan Police
Priti Patel has approved the proposal submitted earlier this week by BT, which has run the 999 service for 84 years.
In a letter to the Home Secretary, chief executive Philip Jansen said technology should be used to tackle male violence.
He said it might cost as little as £50million and could be up and running by Christmas.
Miss Patel said last night: ‘This new phone line is exactly the kind of innovative scheme which would be good to get going as soon as we can. I’m now looking at it with my team and liaising with BT.’
Mr Jansen came up with the idea while ‘despairing’ at Miss Everard’s abduction, rape and killing by Wayne Couzens, a Metropolitan Police officer jailed for life last week.
He is now calling for ministers, police leaders and telecoms bosses to discuss the plan urgently.
Users would download a mobile phone app and enter their home address and other favourite destinations. Before a journey they would call or text 888 – or initiate the app – giving an estimate of how many minutes they expected to take.
Wayne Couzens, pictured, was handed a whole life sentence for the murder of Ms Everard
The journey would be tracked by the phone’s GPS system with the app sending a message to check the user had got home.
A failure to respond would trigger calls to emergency contacts and, finally, to the police.
Mr Jansen said the non-profit service could be used by anybody who feels vulnerable when walking home and not just women.
He added: ‘I was watching the non-stop TV coverage of the despicable situation surrounding Sarah Everard and just despairing at it.
‘It’s very rare that people get kidnapped, raped and murdered, and the whole story is just awful. But what is not rare is the number of people who feel worried or fearful on a walk home.
‘It happens every day in massive numbers, with people walking by themselves, looking over their shoulder, constantly worried.’
Mr Jansen acknowledged there would be complications with privacy and misuse: ‘What we don’t want is a load of calls to the police that would be a waste of time. That is the biggest challenge. The 999 service is abused and it’s a disgrace, but it is hard to stop it.’
Phill Matthews of the Police Federation, which represents the rank and file, said it would be problematic if the system ‘generated a load more work for the police’.
He added: ‘If the technology is there, and that’s what people want, it could be a good thing. Police do advocate letting people know where you are going and when you are back.
‘This would generate quite a few concerns for safety. It’s a volume issue and could create extra work that diverts police resources from elsewhere. As tragic as these events are, they are very rare. But anything that improves people’s safety we wouldn’t be opposed per se.’
A Home Office spokesman said: ‘We have received the letter and will respond in due course.
‘As set out in our strategy earlier this year, we need a whole of society approach to tackling violence against women and girls and welcome joint working between the private sector and Government.’
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick, pictured, has faced major criticism for the force’s failure to prevent Ms Everard’s murder and pick up on Couzens’s prior behaviour
It was announced yesterday that Louise Casey will lead a review into sexual misconduct allegations involving serving Met officers.
The crossbench peer will investigate the culture of Britain’s largest police force and assess leadership and vetting processes in the wake of Miss Everard’s murder.
Couzens’ unit, the parliamentary and diplomatic protection command, will face extra scrutiny, a force spokesman said last night.
Part of the review will involve re-examining cases of sexual misconduct from the past ten years. Met chief Dame Cressida Dick welcomed Baroness Casey’s appointment and said: ‘Louise is extremely experienced and highly respected and I know will ask the difficult questions.’
The review, which is expected to take six months, will help improve the public’s confidence in the force, she added.
Baroness Casey was the UK’s first victims’ commissioner and ran the troubled families programme.
BT Chief Executive PHILIP JANSEN: Let’s end the worry for those we love after the murders of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa
The murders of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa filled me – like so many others – with outrage and disgust. As the father of four daughters and a son, all young adults making their way in the world just as Sarah and Sabina were, these abhorrent crimes appalled and touched me deeply.
It is devastating to think two young women, so vibrant, so loved and with so much to give, had their lives snatched so brutally from them. My heart goes out to their families.
Terrible as they were, such murders are, thankfully, extremely rare, but the fear they create is commonplace. Every day, up and down the country, the simple act of walking alone is making people feel anxious and at risk.
BT CEO Philip Jansen, pictured, believes the new phone line could help women who feel threatened while walking on the street
Male violence is causing so many people, especially women, to live in fear. And their parents, partners and friends worry too, more now than ever. We shouldn’t have to, but we do: this pervasive threat is all too real.
There is a growing anger and desperation to take action. As CEO of BT, I am in a position to do something practical. I have been thinking about how we can use technology to tackle the problem.
So, together with my BT colleagues, I have come up with something that I believe can help.
This week I wrote to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, outlining an idea that we are developing.
BT already handles 999 emergency calls, and we are currently building the next-generation 999 network.
We are proposing to build into it a new emergency service that would complement 999. This new service is provisionally called 888 or ‘walk me home’, but it could also be used on taxi rides, public transport or any journey. A simple device or app on your phone, using similar GPS technology to Uber and Google Maps, would allow the user to opt in to a remote tracking mechanism.
When activated it would automatically trigger an alert if they didn’t reach their destination within the expected time. The user’s named emergency contacts – usually family and friends – could then raise the alarm with the police if they could not establish the user’s whereabouts and safety.
No one would be missing for hours, their whereabouts unknown. It would also allow a user to send an instant alert to the police, with just one touch.
My colleagues at BT are now working on the technology and practicalities. The 888 service would be developed in collaboration with the police and the whole telecoms industry, and could even link in with CCTV networks. It needs to be funded – it will only work effectively if it is free of charge on every mobile phone network. But the costs will be low as the technology already exists. Like the 999 service, it will cover every part of the country.
It will, of course, require thorough user-testing and feedback. We need to ensure that it will not trigger unnecessary police call-outs with false alerts.
One possible objection is that it’s ‘Big Brother’ surveillance. But that simply doesn’t stand up – people opt in.
The very existence of the 888 service should also act as a deterrent to criminals, knowing that the alarm will automatically be raised if their victim doesn’t reach their destination on time, that friends and family will start ringing around and alert the police.
Anxious parents often use ‘find my phone’ to keep track of their children’s movements if they are out at night. But youngsters don’t want their parents tracking them, and many turn it off.
The 888 service would mean that parents can relax a bit, knowing that if there is a problem, they will be alerted.
There needs to be proper discussion and debate about the technicalities, but I am confident that we can make it work. I am not a politician, I can’t change society, but if I can use innovative technology to improve personal safety, then I am determined to do so.
I hope that the Government supports this idea and that 888 goes on to make a real difference.