A TOP detective has denied any connection between police raids on brothels and plans to redevelop Soho – instead claiming the operation was inspired by American crime drama The Wire.
Detective Superintendent Kevin Southworth was forced to defend the recent raids – which involved more than 40 premises in Soho – during a fiery debate in St Anne’s Church on Monday night with residents, business owners and sex workers.
It follows an operation in December that saw 200 officers wearing riot gear burst into strip clubs, sex shops, brothels and a minicab office in what the Metropolitan Police say was an attempt to stifle the trade of stolen goods.
Questions have been raised about the timing of the raids, which came just days before Soho Estates were granted permission by Westminster Council to bulldoze parts of Walkers Court, Peter Street and Brewer Street as part of a £10million project. DS Southworth told the West End Extra: “There is no basis to it, as much as we all like a good conspiracy theory.
“I just came here two years ago, and maybe I’d watched too many episodes of The Wire, but I didn’t want to leave here with Soho still the crime hotspot it was.”
In The Wire, police struggle to find a lasting solution to high crime levels on the drug-riddled streets of Baltimore as waves of arrests on street-level dealers fail to make any impact.
DS Southworth was part of the police team that pursued Jean Charles de Menezes before the Brazilian national was fatally shot at Stockwell tube station in 2005.
He told the meeting that undercover officers had established a link between the sale of phones and other items – allegedly stolen in street robberies and bag snatches – and the supply of crack cocaine.
He said: “We went where the evidence took us to identify the handling of stolen goods and the drug dealing that led us to that.”
Soho resident Andrew Murray said: “I’m pretty sure if you spoke to anyone in the room, nothing has changed much in the way Soho works – the drugs markets work and the brothels work, for 20 years plus. It’s gone on and on and on.
“So if I was a police officer, and if I saw these raids take place and these brothels close, at almost the same point in time as a big development is taking place in the same location, I would think that’s a bit of a coincidence.”
Sex workers grilled police over claims that brothels were targeted for their connection to the trade in stolen goods.
Following the raids, police sought to close down 20 brothels, but they have been criticised for failing to provide evidence that the premises were linked to the handling of stolen goods.
Instead a district judge issued “brothel closure orders” after police claimed to have found evidence that women in the flats were controlled by an unknown third party, which contravenes prostitution laws.
However, sex workers attended Hammersmith Magistrates’ Court to tell the judge that they were working of their own free will.
Niki Adams, of the English Collective of Prostitutes which campaigns for the rights of sex workers, told the detective: “You justified this on the grounds of drugs and none of the closure orders mentioned drugs at all.
“You are mixing up a lot of different issues.
“This is new justification for the closures and the fact is the closures have put women at risk.”
Responding to the claims, borough commander Alison Newcomb said after the meeting: “We visited the premises because we had evidence of handling stolen goods. If when we were there we found evidence of control, then we are going to deal with it. We’re not being selective, we’ve taken steps where the evidence has said there’s an offence here, whether that’s a criminal offence or an offence of control.”
Also at the meeting was John James, chairman of Soho Estates who own the freehold on many of the properties.
He said: “I have no issue against working girls whatsoever, but the people who working girls pay their rent to are still part of the black economy of anonymous landlords who own properties all around Soho and have done since the 1950s.”
The council’s community safety chief Councillor Nickie Aiken set out their position on brothels.
“The only reason we will close a brothel is if there is known to be criminal activity, apart from the usual sex work, like anything do with drugs in the street,” she said. “If a brothel is just providing a sex service, we just turn a blind eye.”