The leader of Plymouth city council has been suspended from the Conservative party over “victim-blaming” comments, after he told women “not to put themselves in a compromising position” following the killing of 18-year-old Bobbi-Anne McLeod.
The councillor, Nick Kelly, spoke about women’s safety in Plymouth after the body of McLeod was found in Bovisand, near Plymouth, Devon, last Tuesday. “Everybody has a responsibility not to try to put themselves in a compromising position,” Kelly told ITV two days later.
McLeod left her home in Plymouth at about 6pm on 20 November, and disappeared from a nearby bus stop shortly afterwards. Cody James Ackland, 24, was charged with her murder.
After a weekend of anger, when Tudor Evans, the Labour leader of the council’s opposition, called Kelly’s comments “insensitive and arrogant”, Plymouth Sutton and Devonport Conservative Association suspended Kelly on Tuesday.
The local Conservative party said in a statement: “Cllr Nick Kelly’s membership of the Conservative party has been temporarily suspended pending an investigation following comments he was reported to have made.”
Kelly remains leader of the council but now serves as an independent.
His comments propelled him to the centre of a debate over victim blaming and women’s safety in a year in which the abduction, rape and murder of Sarah Everard, 33, by Wayne Couzens, a serving Met police officer occurred. Philip Allott, the Tory police, fire and crime commissioner for North Yorkshire until his resignation in October, provoked fury for suggesting Everard should not have “submitted” to Couzens’ false arrest and should have been more “streetwise”.
Evans said: “Once again, we see a prominent man giving unwanted advice to women on how they should conduct themselves when going about their normal business. I think Cllr Kelly should reflect on his remarks and apologise immediately.”
Kelly tried to clarify his comments and said they were taken out of context. “If I said to my daughter go out at 3am to some less salubrious areas, would that be responsible parenting?” he said on Friday. “Not that you shouldn’t do that, but we live in a world, not just Plymouth, where there are undesirable people who want to inflict pain or hurt and that was what I was trying to get across.”
But Kelly initially refused to apologise. “Clearly I don’t feel the need to apologise, but if I do need to, in no way, shape or form was I ever intimating that Bobbi-Anne did anything wrong.”
He later released a letter “wholeheartedly apologising … if reported statements made by me earlier this week have caused distress and upset”.
On Tuesday, police confirmed that the body discovered 10 miles away near the beach of Bovisand following a large-scale police operation had been officially identified as that of McLeod.
Responding to Kelly’s refusal to apologise, a group of 16 female politicians in Plymouth signed a joint letter calling for a “full and proper apology”.
They said: “As the leader of our city you should be unequivocal on the matter of victim blaming and cognisant of the power of your words. We are asking you, once again, to reflect on what you said and the real distress it has caused. Then, perhaps, you might understand why a full apology and retraction is necessary, highlighting that the actual ‘responsibility’ everyone has is not to harm others.”
“Women quite often get victim-blamed for things that happen to them,” said Sue Dann, deputy leader of Plymouth Labour group and a signatory of the letter. “This was just a woman standing on the main road, going about her daily life.
“So councillor Kelly insinuating that people should take responsibility is incredibly irresponsible.”