Boris Johnson's 'Interfering' Neighbours Were Far From Wrong To Call The Police

Commentators turned their fire on Johnson and Carrie Symonds' two concerned neighbours – but with hundreds of women killed by their partners each year, such calls can sometimes be literal lifesavers, Fawcett Society's Sam Smethers writes
Peter Summers via Getty Images

Over the weekend, widespread media reporting of the row between Boris Johnson and his partner, Carrie Symonds, seems worryingly to have turned their fire on the motivations of the neighbours who took action and called the police.

But the truth is, when it comes to domestic violence, it may only be the ‘interfering’ neighbour who is in a position to save a life or prevent serious injury. I make no comment on what was happening in this particular case, but the fact that when police attended the flat there was no visible cause for concern doesn’t mean that this was in fact the case, nor does it mean that the neighbour was wrong to report it. Far from it.

This week, a statement published by domestic abuse charity SafeLives and signed by myself amongst other representatives of women’s organisations makes the simple, but seemingly forgotten point – that we all have a duty and, one would hope, an instinct that if we hear someone screaming or in distress we should intervene.

Through the wall or the closed front door, we are not in a position to judge how serious or otherwise it is, but if what we hear makes us believe that she may be at risk then we must act.

Let us remind ourselves why. Domestic violence is a highly gendered crime, as these statistics published by Women’s Aid show: Every week two women are murdered by a partner or ex-partner. Of the 246 women killed by their partner or ex-partner from April 2013 to March 2016 in England and Wales, 242 of these were killed by men. The police in England and Wales receive 100 calls about domestic abuse every hour. Over 80% of high frequency victims are women. While both women and men can experience domestic violence, women are much more likely to experience sustained physical or psychological abuse before seeking help.

By targeting the neighbours in this case the media, MPs and others with political motives are undermining this important message – that we shouldn’t be helpless bystanders but instead active ones. In doing so, these commentators may, unintentionally, discourage others from acting if they have cause for concern.

But the harsh truth is if we don’t act and there is in fact a case of domestic abuse, we will have been complicit in the violence ourselves. As the Secret Barrister tweeted: “I’ve lost count of the number of domestic violence cases I’ve successfully prosecuted which only came to the police attention because of the actions of concerned neighbours. These people are literal life-savers. For MPs to discourage this for political point scoring is shameful.”

So the important message is this: don’t regret your inaction, instead take action. You might save a life.

Sam Smethers is chief executive of the Fawcett Society

  • If you, or someone you know, is in immediate danger, call 999 and ask for the police. If you are not in immediate danger, you can contact:

    • The Freephone 24 hour National Domestic Violence Helpline (run in partnership by Women’s Aid and Refuge): 0808 2000 247
    • In Scotland, contact Scotland’s 24 hour Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline: 0800 027 1234
    • In Northern Ireland, contact the 24 hour Domestic & Sexual Violence Helpline: 0808 802 1414
    • In Wales, contact the 24 hour Life Fear Free Helpline on 0808 80 10 800.
    • National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0800 999 5428
    • Men’s Advice Line: 0808 801 0327
    • Respect helpline (for anyone worried about their own behaviour): 0808 802 0321

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