BT phone box removal could cut relief for domestic abuse

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Lochaber is set to lose 13 telephone boxes as part of BT’s proposal to remove 110 from the highlands area, the largest number of removals in the country.

It is part of a nationwide proposal to get rid of 650 boxes and if all go ahead it would leave the country left with 2,600, a reduction of 60 per cent since 2003.

No boxes are to be removed from the islands or areas where there is no mobile coverage, but some people could be losing a vital lifeline.

Lorraine Revitt, head of Lochaber Women’s Aid, said: ‘While we do not have any definite figures on women using public payphones to contact Women’s Aid, they are a vital service for women in rural communities. If they are escaping from domestic abuse then the phone boxes allow them to dial 999 without a mobile.

‘Some women will also have had tracking apps put on their smartphones to track their location and browsing activity. Having public payphones throughout rural communities helps to keep women safe.’

Apps such as mSpy are generally used by parents to monitor their children’s phone use but can also be used by controlling partners.

John Fotheringham, chairman of Spean Bridge, Roy Bridge, and Achnacarry Community Council, does not think Spean Bridge’s boxes can be removed.

He said: ‘Having been through the process about three years ago and then found that BT took such a long time to give us a definitive answer, I think it likely that the Community Council will want to keep all three telephone boxes, especially as mobile reception is so patchy. On the last occasion we reluctantly agreed to the removal of some but not to these three and nothing has changed.’

Some are welcoming the removal due to expanding communities needing the numbers.
Geoffrey Campbell, chairman of West Ardnamurchan Community Council, said: ‘One of the things we have here is a shortage of telephone numbers. Our exchange doesn’t have enough numbers in it to service the expanding community.

‘There is one family in Kilchoan with two young children who don’t have a telephone. If the village’s two unused phone boxes were removed then presumably those two numbers would become available.’

Some communities have ‘adopted’ their traditional red phone box from BT for £1 under the ‘Adopt a Kiosk’ scheme and given a new lease of life as a library, café or even defibrillator station.

A BT spokesperson said: ‘Most people now have a mobile phone and calls made from our public telephones have fallen by around 90 per cent in the past decade. We consider a number of factors before consulting on the removal of payphones, including whether others are available nearby and usage.

‘The need to provide payphones for use in emergency situations is also diminishing all the time, with at least 98 per cent of the UK having either 3G or 4G coverage. This is important because as long as there is network coverage, it’s now possible to call the emergency services, even when there is no credit or coverage from your own mobile provider.’

The proposed removals will not go ahead until after a public consultation which is due to be submitted to BT in early November and, according to OFCOM, phone boxes cannot be removed if written objection is received by this time.