In May last year, a peculiar thing happened to me. As I made my way home from a friend’s party in Greenwich, a man approached me, several times and, to cut a long story short, wanked over my feet. Yes, it sounds strange, and funny, even – in a macabre way. I wrote about it for The Pool when it happened because I, too, didn’t take it seriously at first. Until it went to court, and a lengthy trial revealed the full scale of this man’s crimes: nine girls, 19 accusations of sexual offences. He denied his crimes but was found guilty of all but one, and jailed for two and a half years.
There was a reason that Aaron Black – the then-30-year-old man from Catford, London, who attacked us all – was convicted. Not only the almost-identical descriptions of the sexual offences from the nine young professional women he targeted – but, at least in my case, compelling CCTV evidence from public transport: from the Tube, and a bus that pulled up beside where I was stood. Standing in the dock was the first I knew of it – blurry images of a figure following me on the Tube, following me out of Lewisham station, twice approaching me before finally standing next to me, masturbating. I watched what I had described over and over to police play out on the screen, and felt corroborated and safer. The jury could see definitively that, despite what the defence barristers tried to imply (that I was drunk, that I enjoyed it or was a fantasist) I was telling the truth.
Which is why a petition gaining traction this week struck a chord with me and, I presume, the many, many others who have found themselves in similarly peculiar or scary or threatening situations. Makedah Simpson has launched a campaign to implore transport companies to store CCTV footage for at least 30 days, following an incident she was involved in on a public bus. Simpson, 23, reported being racially abused as she boarded a bus near Victoria Station in London this March – she told police the following day that a man shouted at her and “shoved” her, causing an injury to her shoulder. However, the case was immediately dropped because, due to an error on recording some details, the recovery of the CCTV was delayed. She was later informed that, because the company only kept recordings for 10 days, it had been completely overwritten – and her case thereby had insufficient evidence. She said that the turn of events had made her “lose faith in the criminal-justice system”.
I watched what I had described over and over to police play out on the screen, and felt corroborated and safer
Simpson’s petition to ensure that CCTV footage is kept for at least 30 days has already gained more than 143,000 signatures, and the campaign is growing. She says that, not only would the change in protocol reassure people that there would be “a better scope of protection available to them”, it would also relieve the pressure on victims and allow them to take the time to feel more confident reporting a crime.
It’s a simple ask, and one that could be crucial to ensuring that more victims see justice. In fact, I would go as far as to say that footage should be kept for a longer period. Take, for instance, Nichi Hodgson’s case, which was brought to public consciousness at the beginning of August. In a compelling (and damning) op-ed, she revealed that she had been told by police that her attacker was unlikely to be caught because CCTV was rarely kept for more than 30 days – and, since she didn’t know the name of the man who orally raped her in a taxi, there was little they could do to bring him to justice.
Without CCTV, the man who committed sexual offences against me and eight other girls (that we know of) might not have been convicted, either. Nor the man who exposed himself to my friend on a bus. Or the man who tried to assault another friend on the Tube. But, for every case like mine or theirs, it’s no secret that there are hundreds that never see a glimpse of justice, just like Simpson’s. So often in these cases, the burden of proof lies firmly with the victim. If this simple campaign could help change that in any way, or make it slightly easier for victims to make their case, isn’t it worth making a fuss about?