Thursday, 31 March 2011

Sian O'Callaghan - Lessons for us all

On Saturday 18th March, 22 year old Sian O’Callaghan goes out for a night out with friends

On Sunday 19th March at 2:52 am, Sian is filmed on CCTV leaving the nightclub to walk the half mile route home.

Sian was not seen again until 24th March, when her body was found after a suspect, who had been arrested, offered information as to her whereabouts.

At the point of writing this article, facts about what happened to Sian are still very limited and so we can only surmise as to what happened after she left the nightclub. However, having spent many years working on the front line of nightclub security, and having witnessed countless lone females leaving the various clubs and pubs that I worked, on their own, late at night and accepting lifts from waiting taxis and cabs, this incident highlights parallels of events that happen almost every weekend at almost every nightclub.

Below are some basic self defence tips that I offer to women and men when we’re talking about personal security / self defence when travelling on public transport or in taxis, cabs, etc

- Walk facing traffic – help prevent vehicles from slowly approaching from behind

- If a car stops, don’t approach – use your voice - Never accept lifts from strangers or those professing to be taxi drivers

- Only use pre-booked taxi drivers

- If taken home at night, ask driver to watch until you are inside

- Most taxi companies will text you the colour, make, model of the taxi you should expect – they can even give you the registration and name of the driver

- If a different taxi arrives, call the head office, don’t just assume it was an innocent change of driver and vehicle

It’s worth noting at this point though that we generally have the premise that taxi drivers are safe, honest and trustworthy, and especially if you are a lone female, helpful and considerate in ensuring you feel comfortable in their car and arrive home safely. Sadly, it would seem, judging by the limited facts published at the time of writing this article, this is not the case in the story of Sian O’Callaghan, who went missing on her way home from a night out, and was found murdered the days later, with a taxi driver being the primary suspect.

If we are to make some assumptions at this time, it is looking highly likely that Sian, who was last seen walking away from the nightclub, only about half a mile from her home, either chose to get into the taxi or was abducted by the taxi driver.

If she accepted the lift willingly from the taxi then we must use this as an opportunity to remind people that it is firstly illegal to flag down private hire cabs, and secondly, that it is not good personal security to accept lifts from taxis and cabs that you have not pre-booked. If Sian was more forcibly abducted by the driver then some of the other basic points about personal security on foot are more important.

Those of being aware of your surroundings, ensuring you walk facing the traffic, you don’t accept lifts and you don’t allow yourself to be goaded and drawn near to the vehicle. Often attackers will use dialogue and questions to attract your attention, asking you for directions to draw you closer to the vehicle so that they can grab hold of you.

Vehicles may actually drive past you several times in order to assess your awareness and how alert you are to their presence, in order that they maintain the element of surprise when the make their move.

It’s with a heavy heart that I have used this very real, very sad, and very current case to highlight these points and it is wrong to criticise poor Sian in her actions that evening. However, we can all learn from these events and we can all work harder and take more precautions with our own personal security so that we do not make it easy for these vicious murderers to carry out their despicable actions.

- When on a night out, ensure you are in familiar, and sensible company.

- Never walk home alone, even when it is only a short distance away (we often allow our guard to drop the closer we are to our home as the surroundings become more and more familiar)

- Never accept lifts from strangers, taxis or cabs that you have not pre-booked

- Never allow a stranger to befriend and accompany you on your journey, even if they seem like a good Samaritan

- Always pre-arrange your transport home

- Ask the driver to wait until you are safely in your home

- If you are in a cab and feeling nervous or uncomfortable, then ask them to stop at the next well populated area, or somewhere you know you can gain attention from others (asking to stop at a petrol station for money or cigarettes is a good ploy)

- Make sure someone knows where you are going, when to expect you back and how to contact you while you are out

- Have emergency numbers set to speed dial on your mobile – ensure it is well charged

- If you are being followed, walk more confidently and try to gain more distance between them and yourself, (only run when out of sight as it can indicate you are panicked and scared and will encourage them they have found the right victim)

- Know you limits – Alcohol can impair your judgement and rational thinking and is the most common date rape drug

Sadly, whilst we should be able to trust taxi drivers and others in positions of responsibility, we are ultimately still responsible for our own personal security and must always remain aware and alert to anything which could pose a threat to our safety. Whilst the taxi company in question have commented that they do their very best to ensure their passengers are safe, with all the good measures such as texting the car reg, etc – perhaps more should still be done in vetting their drivers.

But even that may not be enough if the person responsible for this crime has a clean record or has never been caught of any previous criminal activity.

And this is even more reason that we should always take the very best, the very safest, and the most sensible care ofourselves. Our thoughts and prayers are with Sian O’Callaghan’s friends, family and loved ones.

RIP Sian.

Stay Safe

Al Peasland

Personal Safety Expert

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