Sabina Nessa: neighbours to hold vigil for suspected murder victim

·4 min read
<span>Photograph: Metropolitan Police/PA</span>
Photograph: Metropolitan Police/PA

Friends and neighbours of Sabina Nessa, a teacher who was found dead at the weekend, have described feeling scared and overwhelmed following her suspected murder, but determined to honour her life with a peaceful vigil.

The community of Kidbrooke in Greenwich, south-east London, have organised a vigil at 7pm on Friday evening in Pegler Square, Kidbrooke, inviting those who cannot be there in person to light a candle on their doorstep at the same time.

The body of the primary school teacher was found near a community centre on Saturday, and the Metropolitan police said her death was being treated as murder. A man in his 40s who was arrested on suspicion of killing her has been released under further investigation.

Lisa Williams, the head of Rushey Green primary school in Lewisham, where Nessa worked, called the 28-year-old a brilliant teacher and said the school had been left “devastated”.

Annie Gibbs, the vice-chair of the Kidbrooke forum community group, said people in the area were feeling shocked and scared.

“We are a loving community and we have a strong sense of solidarity,” she said. “Everyone wants the same thing – to support Sabina’s family and to make sure that we find whoever did this, so that she can get justice.”

She added: “We want people to respect and honour her life and make sure that we send a loud and clear message that we are a united community and this violent act isn’t going to divide us. Violence isn’t welcome here and we will stand up against it. Although many people didn’t know Sabina, our community is one.”

Gibbs said police leaders in Greenwich had given community organisers assurances that they would provide a “calm level of support”, and had listened to concerns.

The vigil is being supported by the group Reclaim These Streets, which organised a vigil after the murder of Sarah Everard in March, which was later banned by police because of Covid restrictions. Hundreds gathered in defiance of the ban, and the Met and its commissioner, Cressida Dick, were later criticised for heavy-handed policing.

In a statement, the group said it was “angry and heartbroken”, adding: “There is an epidemic of violence unfolding in front of our eyes and all we are getting from the government are empty words and reports.”

Anna Birley, one of the group’s organiser’s, said Nessa’s death was more tragic evidence that urgent changes were needed.

“For too long the burden of women’s safety has been on women – it shouldn’t take yet another murder of a woman to change that,” she said. “Since March we’ve seen a lot of reports and little action – a woman dies at the hands of a man every three days in this country so the time for reports and platitudes is over and the time for action is long overdue.”

Gibbs, the founder of the community interest company Amour Destiné, which supports black women and girls, said despite a groundswell of outrage about men’s violence against women the government was still not listening.

“The focus is still very much about making women feel safe, and we’ve got great strategies around that. But how much longer is it going to be women’s responsibility to keep themselves safe? What we need is a strategy that is going to focus on stopping people’s harmful behaviours.”

The government released its long-awaited violence against women and girls strategy (VAWG) in July, after 180,000 people responded to a consultation on women’s safety, the majority after the murder of Sarah Everard in March. It promised better support services for minority communities, a national police lead for VAWG, a “StreetSafe” app allowing women and girls to record where they feel unsafe, as well as a public health campaign which will focus on perpetrator behaviour.

Farah Nazeer, the chief executive of Women’s Aid, said women of colour still faced particular challenges in the criminal justice system and were less likely to be able to find help and be taken seriously.

“The treatment of Sabina’s death has not been on the same level as others, and time and time again we see how victims from black and minoritised communities do not receive the same level of attention and support,” she said.

“It is simply not good enough, and it has to change. Sabina’s death is as unacceptable and shocking as that of any other woman, and our headlines, TV coverage and outrage in our social media posts should reflect this.”

Andrea Simon, the director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition (Evaw), said: “Women are united in anger and grief following the murder of Sabina Nessa, just six months after the government promised to take action to tackle violence against women following the murder of Sarah Everard but we are yet to see any meaningful transformation in the criminal justice system.”

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