Ministers warned action not ‘warm words’ needed to tackle violence against women

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Bereaved families and campaigners warned “lessons are not being learned” to deal with violence against women and girls, telling ministers: “Warm words are no longer enough.”

They stood in silence in the House of Commons public gallery as Labour MP Jess Phillips spent almost five minutes reading out the names of women killed in the UK in the last year, where the primary suspect or known killer is a man.

The MP for Birmingham Yardley mentioned 108 women in total but warned many more deaths are not recorded and others suffer “terrible domestic abuse and violence”.

Murdered aspiring lawyer Zara Aleena, 35, from Ilford, east London, was among those remembered in the chamber. She was sexually assaulted and killed by a recently released offender in June last year.

The youngest on the list was 15-year-old Holly Newton, from Northumberland, and the oldest was 92-year-old Anne Woodbridge, from Weston-super-Mare.

“Everyone pushes for lessons to be learned, tells us next time it will be different. It never is.

“This week alone I have spoken to a woman whose perpetrator turned up at her home while on bail for trying to attack her with a weapon. A call to the police left her waiting seven days for a response.

“Femicide is currently not mentioned in the domestic abuse strategy. This is not OK.

“I urge the Government to hurry up and release the long overdue sentencing review into domestic homicide. There’s no reason why we are still waiting. All these women died in the time we have been promised this review.”

Ms Phillips added: “The families and the Killed Women campaign, who join us here today, would want me to make clear that lessons are not being learned. Warm words are no longer enough.

“We honour these women not by reading out their names, not by doing any of the promises that happen in this place, we honour them with deeds not with words.”

The families and campaigners in the gallery applauded at the conclusion of Ms Phillips’ speech.

On gender-based violence, equalities minister Maria Caulfield said “clearly, there is a significant problem”.

As she closed the debate, Ms Caulfield said the Government is “doing great work in improving the experience of women”, adding: “Rape crisis centres in England and Wales have been awarded a grant to set up a new national phone support line available 24/7 which launched on December 7.

“We are providing £27 million to recruit more independent sexual and domestic violence advisors but clearly despite all of that, there is a significant problem. That’s why violence against women and girls was put in the women’s health strategy because it’s not just a criminal issue. It’s not just a justice issue.”

Ahead of the debate, a mother whose daughter was murdered by her ex-boyfriend has said she and her fellow bereaved will not stop demanding action from the Government to save women’s lives.

Julie Devey, who co-founded the campaigning organisation Killed Women, said she feels power in joining together with other affected families, but questioned what she sees as a lack of action to stop the problem.

Her daughter Poppy Devey Waterhouse was brutally murdered by her ex-partner after he failed to come to terms the end of their three-year relationship.

Poppy Devey Waterhouse was brutally murdered by her ex-boyfriend (West Yorkshire Police/PA)
Poppy Devey Waterhouse was brutally murdered by her ex-boyfriend (West Yorkshire Police/PA)

Ms Devey said her world “came to a halt” when she got news of her daughter’s death, and feels “nothing has changed” since her name was read out in Parliament in 2019.

She said: “We gather here now listening to this year’s needless death toll and ask where is the action, where is the urgency, where is the justice?

“Standing together with other families who have endured similar tragedies, and the solidarity and strength that comes from our connection, feels very powerful.

“As bereaved families, we have faced endless failures from the agencies that were supposed to deliver justice for our daughters, or protect our mothers, aunts, nieces and loved ones. We will not stop demanding action from Government to save women’s lives. We will be a force to be reckoned with.”

The group Killed Women was launched in 2022 and is made up of a number of bereaved families of women killed by men.

The network, representing victims of crimes that span four decades, is calling for an “end to the ‘culture of gross negligence’ that has led to a woman being killed every three days”.

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