REPORTS of the police being called to the flat Boris Johnson shares with his girlfriend Carrie Symonds, after neighbours heard screaming and shouts of “get off me”, dominated the news over the weekend.

At the first Tory leadership hustings on Saturday, Mr Johnson refused to make any comment on the incident, which only heightened the media speculation yesterday.

Despite the negative press, it has done little to damage Mr Johnson’s chances of comfortably beating Jeremy Hunt to become Prime Minister.

The actions and motivations of Tom Penn, the neighbour who called the police, were the subject of much scrutiny in the days that followed the incident. In a statement, Mr Penn said he heard “screaming” and “banging” and knocked on Ms Symonds’ door before calling the police after getting no answer.

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Of course, nobody knows what took place in that flat late on Thursday night. Nor can we make any authoritative guesses about the nature of the relationship between Mr Johnson and Ms Symonds based on the limited information we have read in the newspapers. That doesn’t assuage the rank irresponsibility of those senior politicians and commentators who have rushed to condemn the neighbours for hearing a woman scream and deciding to act.

Friends of Ms Symonds have said that “at no point did she feel unsafe”, but the crucial point that so many seem to be wilfully ignoring is that the neighbours could not have known that.

Overhearing an altercation so loud that you can record it from inside your own flat would give most people cause for concern. I too would have phoned the police and most people I have spoken to have said they would have done the same.

This isn’t a political smear campaign against the runaway favourite to become Tory leader; it is the only responsible course of action for a bystander to take in a world where violence against women is commonplace.

In England and Wales, figures from the Office of National Statistics show that in the year ending 2018, 1.2 million women experienced domestic abuse that year. One in four women will experience domestic abuse in her lifetime. Culturally, we have made progress in how we view domestic abuse, with the police leading the way in unlearning the damaging belief system that suggests abusive behaviour is “just a domestic” or a private matter between couples.

Even so, those who criticised Mr Penn for intervening were as plentiful as they were hasty. Without waiting to see how the story might develop and what new information would come to light, there was a barrage of criticism directed towards the “lefty, anti-Brexit” Mr Penn.

Boris Johnson supporter and Tory MP James Cleverly took to Twitter to say: “The big element in the Boris story isn’t that there was a heated argument, it’s that the police were called. The police were called by the same person who recorded Boris and gave the story to the Guardian.”

In a response that was retweeted thousands of times, Twitter user Andrew Sisley replied: “In 2008 my daughter was murdered in a shared occupancy house where three other people were in at the time. All heard the struggle, nobody called the police. My daughter was 22 and murdered by her 30-year-old ex-boyfriend. ALWAYS call the police please. Don’t listen to politicians.”

Unsurprisingly, the police advise that if you fear for somebody’s safety, as Mr Penn did, then you call them immediately. Since the backlash, some police officers have spoken out to make the point that victims of abuse rarely contact the police themselves, and the police rely on neighbours and concerned friends and family to make them aware of women who might be at risk.

The smear campaign waged against Mr Penn was perhaps inevitable, but that doesn’t detract from the damage done by turning an issue of responsible intervention into one of politically motivated anti-Boris Johnson sentiment.

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This is the rot that set into our politics. We saw it earlier in the week where certain right-wing men were at pains to convince us that Tory former-minister Mark Field grabbing the throat of a female Greenpeace protester was heroic rather than a display of male aggression and violence.

Demands are now being made of Carrie Symonds by both Mr Johnson’s supporters and his opponents. The former would like her to come out publicly and kill the story by standing by her man. The latter want her to lift the lid on her relationship and what she knows about him, amidst rumours that their relationship has hit the rocks.

Both are unreasonable, but unsurprising. As has been made clear this week, women rarely matter as much as politics. Anyone who feels scared of their partner or is worried about someone they know can call Scotland’s 24 hour Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline on 0800 027 1234, email or visit