by WILLIAM McLENNAN
SEX workers will be forced on to the street if a “draconian” ruling that shut down their flat is not reversed, a court heard.
Two sex workers are taking the Metropolitan Police Service to court to appeal a closure order that was granted against a “walk-up flat” in Lisle Street.
Police were granted the order, which means the flat will be boarded up and left to lie empty for three months, last year claiming that the women working there were being controlled by an unknown “ringmaster”.
But on Tuesday Isleworth Crown Court heard that women worked there of their own free will.
One woman, originally from Kosovo, told the court that the flat, where she has worked for seven years, provided her with a safe place to work.
She said: “I tried to look for another flat. It’s difficult to find. There are not any jobs. I never work on the street because it’s too hard to work. We need to open this flat because it’s safe. To work in the street is too difficult.”
Another woman who has worked at a second flat in Lisle Street since July, told the court: “I tried to find another job but it’s very hard to find it. I hope [this flat] reopens and, if not, I’m going to work in the street.”
Niki Adams, from the English Collective of Prostitutes who works with women in Soho, in a witness statement to the court, said: “It seems to me that the police operation has had a very negative effect in that if the premises are closed, women may well end up working on the street where evidence shows it is 10 times more dangerous to work.”
Police said certain aspects of the way the flats were run showed that an unknown individual was breaking section 53 of the Sexual Offences Act which makes an offence of “controlling prostitution for gain”.
Robert Cohen, for the police, said that hand-written signs directing customers to more than one flat showed that “there is somebody behind the scenes who’s taken steps to advertise the premises”. He said: “That common and mutual advertising is indicative of the flat being run for the benefit of a single person.”
The daily rent on the flat and the “lure of financial gain” was evidence that women were being controlled by an unknown third party, he said.
Both women told the court that they choose which days of the week they work, but Mr Cohen questioned how this would work. He said: “My suggestion is, in order for that to happen, somebody is organising you.”
But Juan Lopez, for the two women, referred to the ruling as “draconian” and said: “The police seek to distort what is a common practicality of working girls. They make the arrangement between themselves. If you are sharing a job and you want to pass a job over you just arrange it with a mate. It doesn’t show there being a boss or manager orchestrating things. It doesn’t mean they are being manipulated or managed. It is just common sense.” He added: “There can be no logical, evidential basis, to say they are being controlled.”
He said police could pursue and prosecute the unknown individual who collected the rent.
He told the court: “It’s something that the police might want to stamp out. But they can’t under this legislation. They are free to prosecute where they have evidence, but they don’t elect to do so.”
A ruling on the appeal is expected to be returned today (Friday)
Court clash on evidence of ‘stolen goods’
POLICE have failed to provide any evidence that scores of brothels that have been shut down are linked to violent street crime in Soho, a court heard this week.
As two sex workers appealed a closure order against their Lisle Street flats, Isleworth Crown Court heard of “non-existent criminal links” which police had used to justify raids on dozens of brothels.
More than 200 officers raided some 40 premises in December in what they said was an attempt to stifle trade in stolen goods. The raids led to 20 arrests for “attempting to handle stolen goods”.
At a public meeting last month, Detective Superintendent Kevin Southworth, who orchestrated the operation, said under-cover 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 they collected evidence of “fencing”, where stolen goods were bought and later resold, at a number of brothels, sex shops and a taxi-cab office.
But in the days after the raids, police sought to close more than 20 brothels for unrelated breaches of the Sexual Offences Act. They have provided no evidence of handling stolen goods in relation to the closure orders.
Representing the two sex workers Juan Lopez told the court: “The link that the police purport to make, on no evidence, doesn’t lend itself to any evidential value whatsoever.”
He added: “You have to query why the police want to target these premises.”
But Robert Cohen, representing the Metropolitan Police Service said they believed the raids had cut crime levels.
“Plainly the police are not in possession of the data explaining that, but there’s evidence that the level of street crime in this area has dropped. They have been able to task fewer officers [to work in Soho] because crime levels have dropped,” he said.