A scheme that sees plain clothes police officers tour nightspots for potential sexual predators has been given almost £300,000.

Project Vigilant was first launched in Oxford in 2019 partly in response to ‘Cowley Prowler’ Nelson Soares’ sex attacks on women in the city and has since been expanded nationwide.

Oxford Mail:


Thames Valley Police said the £297,252 grant from the government’s Safety of Women at Night fund will help train officers to spot predatory behaviour in bars and clubs, pay for those snared in undercover operations to go on rehabilitation courses with charity Circles South East, and put staff at bars and clubs through training to identify and challenge unacceptable behaviour.

Ch Supt Katy Barrow-Grint said: “We are sending out a clear message to predatory individuals that their behaviour will not be tolerated.

“It is clear that we are stopping the right people in the right locations before an offence has taken place and this funding will allow us to continue to develop the project with our partners and enhance the skills of our officers.”

First piloted in Oxford two years ago, Project Vigilant sees plain clothes officers tour nightspots for potential sexual predators and identify troubling behaviour like loitering, sexual harassment or inappropriate touching.

Between July 23 and November 4 this year, Thames Valley Police stopped 117 people in Oxford, Reading, Milton Keynes and Windsor have been stopped and 10 arrested including for harassing women, making unwanted sexual comments and loitering in areas where sexual assaults were known to take place.

Of those who were stopped and gave their details, a fifth were found to have previously been involved in violent or sexual and ‘predatory’ offending.

Project Vigilant has already won plaudits nationwide, with the scheme rolled out by forces nationally – including in London.

Earlier this year, the Home Office gave the Thames Valley force £90,000 for a sergeant to oversee the project across the region and pay for Brighton University to evaluate the work.

The new £300,000 funding comes amid mounting concern about women’s safety in venues like nightclubs and bars.

Last month, an 18-year-old woman told the Oxford Mail she’d been left fearful of going out after her drink was allegedly spiked while on a night out in the city centre.

And last week, 19-year-old Molly Hargreaves reported she’d been spiked ‘with a needle’ on a pub crawl in Abingdon.

Oxford University students joined a nationwide nightclub boycott in October as they urged venues to do more to tackle drink spiking.

Tasha Lovel, chairperson of university campaign group It Happens Here, said: “Staff taking spiking seriously is also really important. We have had lots of reports of staff kicking people out of bars and clubs because they have assumed they have been too drunk, but this isn’t normal, and they have been spiked.”

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