LONDON – It was during the desperate search for his missing daughter, Lucie, in the summer of 2000 that Tim Blackman first came up with a scheme to protect people planning to meet up with strangers or those they barely know.
He reckoned that while young people are often reluctant to tell their parents who they are meeting, they may want someone to know some details in case something goes wrong and they don’t return.
Lucie was a 21-year-old bar hostess in Tokyo’s Roppongi district when she disappeared after telling a friend she was going for a drive to the ocean with a client.
But no one knew exactly where she had gone — or with whom.
Her dismembered body was found in a beachside cave in Misaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, on Feb. 9, 2001.
Joji Obara, a Tokyo businessman, stands accused of kidnapping Lucie, of rape resulting in her death, and of mutilating and dumping her body. The trial is expected to resume later this month.
Blackman said the shock of finding Lucie’s body in 2001 left him numb for a couple of years and his plans for a safety scheme fell by the wayside.
Earlier this year, however, while attending an Obara court appearance in Tokyo, his interest in the project was reawakened. He subsequently decided to put it into effect, along with a journalist friend who was with him in Japan.
Their efforts resulted in the recent creation of SafetyText, which uses the Short Message Service facility on cell phones. Users send a message to SafetyText’s main number, 63344, giving details of their meeting.
Once the user arrives home or at their destination, they then cancel the message so that no one receives it, thereby protecting their privacy.
However, should something untoward happen and they fail to cancel the alert, then the message is sent to the user’s chosen buddy — usually a family member or close friend — at a time set in advance by the user.
According to Blackman, the scheme, which is believed to be the first of its kind in the world, has been “pretty successful” so far, with 1,000 registered users. An average weekend will see around 500 messages being sent and the number is growing.
He believes that if a scheme of this kind had been available to his daughter, she might still be alive today.
“If the system had been up and running and in general use, and if her friend had received a SafetyText alert . . . yes, it could have made a huge difference,” he told Kyodo News in an interview.
Currently, people who are connected to British networks can use SafetyText in the United Kingdom or in countries that use Global System for Mobile communications technology.
Blackman hopes the system will be used by backpackers and he has already generated a lot of interest among overseas-based telephone networks. He would love to expand into Japan, but realizes there are obstacles in terms of handset compatibility.
“We are hoping SafetyText can be adapted for use anywhere in the world. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could do it in Japan?” he asked.
Blackman said it would be an ideal aid for women working in Tokyo’s hostess industry. “It would make a difference,” he remarked.
Blackman believes that in addition to acting as a fail-safe mechanism, SafetyText will also make young people more conscious about meeting people in the first place.
He said, “If a young person is using SafetyText . . . they are thinking a lot more cautiously about what they are doing, or the position they are putting themselves in.
“So, I think there is that aspect of SafetyText, which could be quite instructive and educational to young people.”