West End Extra: ‘It’s just a land-grab,’ says Hollywood star Rupert Everett
Rupert Everett: ‘The whole of this town is slipping through our fingers’
HOLLYWOOD actor Rupert Everett joined a group of sex workers in court this week as they protested against the closure of scores of legal brothels in Soho.
Earlier this month 200 police swooped on dozens of businesses in Soho in an attempt to clamp down on the trade of stolen goods. They raided more than 20 “walk-up flats”, where sex workers can legally ply their trade, and have now gone to the courts to seek “closure orders” claiming use of the flats is illegal.
The English Collective of Prostitutes, whose campaign for sex workers’ rights is being supported by Mr Everett, have said that half the flats in Soho have now been closed. Dozens of women have been left without work and are now facing the dangerous prospect of selling sex on the street.
The ECP said the raids “appear to prioritise the interests of property developers and the gentrification of historic Soho for the super-rich, over women’s rights to work in safety and support their families.” It added: “Some women have been discussing working on the street, where it is 10 times more dangerous, because they need money for Christmas.”
Mr Everett – who starred in My Best Friend’s Wedding alongside Julia Roberts – told the West End Extra: “It’s just a land-grab, facilitated by the police. It’s the puritanical sanitisation of London. London has become Monaco, it’s a tax haven for the ultra rich and we haven’t even noticed.
“The whole of this town is slipping through our fingers. It’s a real example of the total corruption that’s going on in this country at the moment. They have no interest in the people who live in the town and work in the place.”
He echoed fears that women would be forced to work on the streets and cited the death of Elizabeth Valad, who was murdered by serial killer Anthony Hardy in 2002. He said: “They’ll be like the lady who was killed in Camden who had so many problems with the police in Soho that she moved to Camden outside and was killed by the Camden Ripper.”
Police have sought the closure orders because they believe an unknown ringmaster is behind each flat and that they break laws by “causing or inciting prostitution for gain”. They also say that by agreeing working hours and rates, the women are being “controlled” by a third party, which is also illegal.
However, sex workers have attended court this week to argue their case, telling judges that they work of their own free will, for their own gain. At Hammersmith Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday, district judge Sue Williams ordered a flat in Brewer Street to be boarded up after listening to lengthy evidence from a sex worker who has used the flat for the last seven years.
The woman, from Albania, told the court: “Nobody tells me what to do. I’m 39 years old. Nobody can control me. I work and pay the bills, just like you do.” She added: “Nobody is controlling me.”
She said that she chooses how much to charge and told Robert Cohen QC, representing the Met police: “If he looks poor I can’t charge him a lot, but if he looks like you I will charge him more, I’m sorry.”
She said that when she came to Britain she decided to become a sex worker. She then approached another woman in Soho and asked to use her flat, when she had days off or was on holiday.
Mr Cohen asked if she had been persuaded to start working by a third party who had told her “it was a good way to make money and live a good life.” But she denied anyone else’s involvement and said: “I decided myself.
“When I got to this stage, I had already decided.” She added: “With the girls there we became friends as well. After work we would go for coffee. We have a community thing between us. It’s nothing to do with anyone else.”