A judge has ruled that a Soho brothel shut down by police earlier this month can reopen for business.
Metropolitan police officers used antisocial behaviour legislation that came into effect at the end of last year to issue a closure notice on two flats in Dean Street, Soho, where sex is sold. But yesterday Mr Justice Riddle, sitting at Horseferry Road magistrates court, refused the Metropolitan Police’s application to have the closure order confirmed.
“I am not satisfied that any person has engaged in antisocial behaviour on the premises,” he ruled.
A large group of sex workers and their maids made a rare public appearance when they attended the court hearing earlier this week. They were supported by some of Soho’s residents including Father David Gilmore, rector of St Anne’s church.
In court, sergeant Dean Else argued that “antisocial behaviour, crime and disorder, blatant acts of drug dealing and clipping in the local environs” were linked to the sale of sex inside 61 Dean Street.
When asked to provide examples of incidents of antisocial behaviour linked to the sex work flats he cited the example of a member of the public who had their wrist cut to facilitate a robbery at the premises. He admitted, however, that he had not been able to find any record of this incident on the police computer and Mr Justice Riddle said that the evidence was “third-hand, anonymous hearsay”.
Father Gilmore said that drug dealing was common throughout Soho, including outside his church.
“We had an issue previously where people were able to enter the church to deal drugs so we had to put extra bars on the gate. Given the nature of the area, drug dealing happens but I have never seen it happening outside 61 Dean Street.”
The sex workers who attended court, from a range of countries including Kosovo, Albania and Romania, said that if the closurer had been confirmed they would have been forced to work on the streets, where they would be more likely to be accused of antisocial behaviour.
Michelle, one of the maids working at 61 Dean Street, welcomed the decision.
“The girls are doing this work because it pays a lot better than a cleaning job. In the Soho flats, if a girl has a problem with one of the punters the maid goes into the bedroom and sorts it out. One time a man pulled a gun on a girl. I went in, jumped on his back and stopped him. The fact that we’re there makes the girls feel safe.”
Sgt Else said: “I understand the judge’s decision. Now I have to go back and arrange for the premises to be reopened.”
Stella, one of the prostitutes working at 61 Dean Street., said: “I’m relieved about the judge’s decision. Now I can return to work, although things have been very quiet in Soho since Christmas because of the credit crunch.”
Michelle approached Sgt Else after the judge delivered his ruling and said: “I don’t want to rub it in, but when can we have our keys back?”
by Diane Taylor