An application by the Metropolitan Police and Westminster Council for a Closure Order against two flats at 61 Dean Street, Soho, was dismissed today, 18 February 2009. (Excellent report in the Evening Standard below.)
With the help of Soho sex workers and other local people, the English Collective of Prostitutes and Legal Action for Women gathered evidence to show the case against the women of 61 Dean Street was entirely spurious, and prevented them from being evicted from the safety of their flats.
The police claimed that the women at 61 Dean Street encouraged anti-social behaviour taking place outside their premises. When examined more closely, their whole case was based on ONE third hand anonymous hearsay claim. The only alleged incident within the three month time specified by law was a police woman reporting that a couple had approached her in the street claiming that a friend had been attacked in the entrance of the Dean Street flat. The police woman herself didn’t come to court; neither did the supposed couple or their friend. Although there was no implication that the women at 61 Dean Street had anything to do with this or any other incident, it was their premises that were being closed. In an area known for prostitution where many premises carry a “model” sign, 61 had been singled out.
While the police could produce no witness, no signed statements, no crime report, the evidence against the Closure Order was overwhelming. The whole community had been galvanised to speak out about what they KNOW to be true: that whatever activities the police may find objectionable in Soho, they cannot be put at the door of working mothers and grandmothers trying to make a living and feed their families. The community was united in defence of “their own” – most people consider sex workers to be an integral part of Soho with the same rights as everyone else.
This case has exposed the injustice inherent in Anti-social Behaviour legislation: it relies on hearsay evidence which cannot be tested thus encouraging every form of prejudice. The police know very well that the criminalisation of many activities related to sex work and the stigma sex workers face as a result (even when their activities are within the law), prevent women from coming forward. As a result most women are unable to defend themselves against false charges based on misinformation or outright lies.
Our efforts backed by the local community ensured that, on this occasion, women got justice. But the fundamental injustice remains. Thousands of women, children and men are criminalised every year, losing their homes, earnings and savings, their movements restricted, and often ending up in jail for breaching an order which was against natural justice in the first place. We are determined to challenge this parallel system of “justice” which criminalises every day behaviour and devastates families, especially those on low incomes. ASBO-criminalisation must be abolished.
English Collective of Prostitutes
17 February 2009