Government criticised over plans for undercover police to patrol bars and clubs to protect women

The 'Project Vigilant’ programme aims to "identify predatory and suspicious offenders"

The government has faced criticism over a new proposal for undercover police officers to patrol bars and nightclubs in order to protect women.

Downing Street has announced that it is taking a series of “immediate steps” to combat predatory behaviour in nighttime settings in the wake of Sarah Everard’s murder, which led to a widespread discussion on women’s safety.

The aim of the ‘Project Vigilant’ programme is for plainclothed officers to “identify predatory and suspicious offenders”, with an increased police presence to be implemented around late-night closing times.

Jess Phillips, the shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding, is among those to have questioned the move. The Labour MP has also called for street harassment to be made illegal.

“For a start, for this to be effective, it’s going to have to have a huge amount of undercover police officers in skinny jeans in bars who are then going to inform [the police],” Phillips told Times Radio (via the Evening Standard).

“Why can’t women inform uniformed officers and be believed if they are being harassed? What are they going to do because there isn’t currently a law that stops us being harassed in the public realm?”

The new measures were announced following a meeting of the government’s Crime And Justice Taskforce, which was chaired by prime minister Boris Johnson.

Johnson said: “We must do everything we can to ensure our streets are safe, and we are bringing in landmark legislation to toughen sentences and put more police on the streets.

“We are also now taking further steps to provide greater reassurance, such as providing better lighting and greater use of CCTV in parks and routes women may take on their walks home.”

He added: “Ultimately, we must drive out violence against women and girls and make every part of the criminal justice system work to better protect and defend them.”

Centre For Women’s Justice, meanwhile, has expressed concerns over the ‘Project Vigilant’ scheme – highlighting the removal of a London police officer from the Sarah Everard case following allegations that he sent an “offensive” image to colleagues via Whatsapp.

“Yet the government feel putting plain-clothes officers in bars will make women feel safer…” they wrote as the caption to the news story.

A Metropolitan Police officer, Wayne Couzens, has been charged with Everard’s kidnap and murder.

Following Everard’s death, there has been a renewed focus on the #ReclaimTheseStreets movement in London and across the UK. On Saturday (March 13), thousands gathered at a vigil at Clapham Common in tribute to Everard, 33 – who went missing from the area earlier this month.

Protests have since taken place in response to the heavy-handed tactics used by London Metropolitan Police to disperse those in attendance, with the force reasoning that the vigil posed a coronavirus risk.