When 23-year-old southeast Londoner Makedah Simpson suffered a racially motivated attack on a bus in March, she assumed she'd be able to rely on the bus operator's CCTV footage in her fight for justice.
But her attacker, whom she describes as a white male in his late 40s, is still on the loose because the footage she needed couldn't be recovered. Currently, transport companies set their own timeframes for authorities and individuals to collect their CCTV footage, and because of a police error in taking down the relevant details of her assault, it couldn't be recovered and was destroyed.
This left Simpson with no evidence and no case. Frustrated, she started a Change.org petition calling on transport companies to keep all CCTV footage for 30 days, and has racked up more than 125k signatures at the time of writing. This one simple change, she says, would benefit all victims of assault on public transport around the country, not just in the capital.
"I was punched severely on the right side of my body and had abuse shouted at me for being an African-Caribbean woman," she writes on the petition page. "No witnesses stepped in to my aid or checked if I was okay. The driver simply closed the doors as my attacker fled.
"Since it happened I have tried to get justice. But because of a bus company policy the CCTV footage has been destroyed and I have been left with no evidence and no way for the police to find my attacker."
When she realised the footage had been lost, she describes feeling distraught because she worked close to where the attack took place and was forced to relive it, knowing it could happen again to another woman, she told Refinery29 UK. As time went on, she became angry. "I used this to fuel my petition, which is why I feel so pleased that others have started to take note of it. Through my own sadness, I don’t want another victim to [feel] the same pain."
Simpson was surprised to learn that there is no centralised procedure for how long transport companies retain CCTV footage, considering how often we're told we live in a "Big Brother state" in which someone is always watching. "When [the attack] occurred, I didn’t question a time limit on the CCTV being available. But once I realised that this was a problem, not only in London but nationwide, I knew something had to change."
The benefits of transport companies storing CCTV data for 30 days are threefold, Simpson says. First, it would provide victims with more time to gain the courage and strength required to report their crime. Secondly, it would reassure the public "that there is a better scope of protection available to them should they ever be in the position." And thirdly, it allows police to put less pressure on victims for information in the immediate aftermath of an attack, and gives them more relevant evidence.
Simpson has been overwhelmed by the support she's received so far. She describes feeling "grateful and happy" and is pleased that she has informed the public about the current CCTV procedures on public transport. "Now, we’re on 125k signatures to date and the support, especially in the comments section, has really made me feel positive about the possibility of change in this area," she continued.
"The comments of support continue to strengthen me and push me to continue on in my quest for a unified change nationwide."