London -- Tuesday December 12, 2006
A brutal indifference
Street sex workers who attempt to report violent attacks are too often shrugged off by police
Police patrol the London Road area in Ipswich. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty images [Scroll down for media reports on suspected serial killer/killers in Suffolk]
It's too late for Gemma Adams, Tania Nicol and a third, as yet unnamed, woman, the three Ipswich street sex workers found brutally murdered in Suffolk. But to prevent the death toll rising, urgent action needs to be taken to protect other women who are working on the streets of Britain.
Nobody has yet been charged, and it is not known if one person alone is responsible. What is known, however, is that, among men convicted of murdering sex workers, killing is rarely the first offence. There is often a history of violent attacks on women. Street-based sex workers are at risk of violence and it is vital that a relationship of trust exists between the women who wait for "business" on the streets and the police officers who can apprehend men who commit violent sexual offences against them. Sadly, trust is all too often absent between these two groups.
Not including the latest victims, at least 51 sex workers have been murdered since 1990. Most women working on the streets are funding expensive drug habits. They are among the most vulnerable members of the community. A report from the Economic and Social Research Council found that two-thirds of sex workers had experienced client violence, that women working on the streets were at greatest risk of violence, and that 28% said punters had tried to rape them.
Overwhelmingly, these women are not involved in serious crimes. While soliciting is a (non-imprisonable) offence, prostitution in itself is not illegal. More needs to be done to guarantee women a sympathetic hearing if or when they report attacks to the police.
In one horrifying case a half-naked street sex worker ran through the streets of south London after escaping from a customer who had raped and attempted to strangle her. Police officers witnessed her running through the streets in a distressed state and followed her to a local crack house, where she sought refuge. Officers then raided the crack house but ignored requests to gather forensic evidence from the woman.
In another case, a street sex worker wanted to report an attempted rape. There was a warrant out for her arrest, so a support worker called the local police station, asking if it could be temporarily waived so that she could report the attack. The police refused.
In some parts of the country police have liaison officers who offer support to sex workers who wish to report violent attacks. Women's experiences have been positive and a relationship of trust exists between street sex workers and local police.
In other places, however, the attitude of the police is "What do you expect if you sell your body on the streets?" In Ipswich, where there is a very small street beat - about 30 women, now reduced by 10% - some of the women have received Asbos, prohibiting them from entering certain streets. This has established an unhelpful and adversarial relationship between police and street-based sex workers. A breach can result in a jail sentence even though the original offence was not imprisonable. Criminalising does not help women to leave prostitution - harm reduction, including drug programmes, opportunities for alternative employment and emotional support are far more likely to succeed in getting women off the streets.
Women involved in street sex work are vulnerable. They should have the same rights as every other woman to have attacks treated seriously and sympathetically by police. Violence against women involved in street sex work should never be shrugged off as an occupational hazard. And taking this crime seriously could make the difference between life and death for the thousands of women who work on the streets.
· Diane Taylor is co-writing My Name is Angel, the memoir of a woman involved in drugs and street prostitution
London -- Tuesday December 12, 2006
Don't go out alone, women told Paul Lewis
Police investigating the murders by a suspected serial killer of three prostitutes in Ipswich, Suffolk, last night revealed that they were concerned for the safety of two other women.
Annette Nicholls, 29, also a prostitute in the town, has not been seen for more than week. She was reported missing by her family yesterday afternoon.
There was also confusion yesterday over the whereabouts of Paula Clennell, 24, another prostitute, who was last seen in the town's red light district on Saturday night. Police said last night that a friend had reported that Ms Clennell had been in contact late on Sunday, but officers said they were still concerned for her welfare and were urgently trying to locate her.
Details of the missing women emerged as senior officers warned all women in the town not to go out at night alone. "We are coming up to the party season and up to Christmas," said assistant chief constable Jacqui Cheer. "There will be groups of women going out and I would say you have really got to look after each other, plan how you are going to get there and please, please come home together. Whatever happens on your night out, make sure you do not leave your friends alone."
Detectives also urged women working as prostitutes not to tout for business while the killer is at large. One theory is that the killer picked up his victims while they solicited for business in the industrial streets scattered around the Portman Road football ground.
A senior officer involved in the investigation said police are concerned the suspected serial killer could strike again soon. More than 100 officers were involved in the multiple murder inquiries last night, with dozens of officers on the streets searching for the two missing women.
The naked bodies of three women have been found around the outskirts of the city. Gemma Adams, 25, and Tania Nicol, 19, were found dead in the same stream in the space of six days. The third body, of an unidentified woman believed to 24 years old, was found in a wooded area on Sunday by a passing motorist. It is believed she may have been dumped there within the previous 48 hours.
Detective Chief Superintendent Stewart Gull said that, although it is not yet possible to formally link all three murders, "the facts speak for themselves".
"All these women were prostitutes working in the same area. They were all found dead, naked."
Asked if the women could have fallen victim to a serial killer, he replied: "Yes, that is a possibility. We are keeping an open mind. There may be one perpetrator, there may be more."
Detectives are consulting psychologist profilers in an attempt to build a picture of a possible serial killer who does not appear to have had a sexual motive. Police believe he may have removed the women's clothes because he is "forensically aware" and does not want to risk leaving fibres from his own clothing, or hairs which could identify him.
London -- Tuesday December 12, 2006
Police warn prostitutes to stay off the streets
· Detectives fear serial killer may be on the loose
· Women urged to travel in groups over party season
Police patrol the London Road area in Ipswich. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty images
Police last night urged all women to stay away from the red light area of Ipswich amid fears that a serial killer has murdered three prostitutes, and possibly more.
The naked bodies of the three women have been discovered in the space of nine days this month. Yesterday, as police in wetsuits searched rivers, detectives leading the murder inquiries confirmed two other women known to work as prostitutes in the Suffolk town had been reported missing.
Faced with the prospect that a serial murderer could be on the loose, police issued a warning to all women in the area.
Jacqui Cheer, Suffolk police's assistant chief constable, said in a message to the 30 or 40 prostitutes who ply their streets in an industrial area in the west of the city: "My message to you is simple - stay off the streets. If you are out alone at night you are putting yourself in danger."
She said an effective amnesty would be in place to encourage prostitutes and their clients to come forward in confidence, and issued a personal mobile number in an appeal for information.
But she also said she was concerned for the city's wider female population. "We are coming up to the party season and up to Christmas. By all means enjoy yourselves but plan your nights out. Go out together, stick together and do not leave your friends alone."
Detective chief superintendent Stewart Gull, who is heading the inquiry, said police might be looking for a serial killer.
He added that there were "distinct similarities" between the two women known to have been murdered and dumped naked in the same stretch of water - Gemma Adams, 25, and Tania Nicol, 19 - and the death of a third woman, who has not yet named but is believed to be a 24-year-old sex worker.
Unlike the other two, she was not found in water but dead in a wood at Nacton on Sunday afternoon. She was also naked.
Police were also anxious about the safety of two other Ipswich prostitutes - Paula Clennell, 24, and Annette Nicholls, 29 - who have been reported missing since the weekend. Ms Nicholls has not been seen by her family for more than a week. "While we can't formally link the discovery of the body at Nacton with the two murders, the facts speak for themselves," said Mr Gull.
"At this stage we don't know how long the body may have been at that location. Clearly there are some distinct similarities. We have already linked the death of Tania and Gemma, clearly there are significant similarities in the finding of this latest woman."
With forensic analysis still being done, no cause of death has been established for any of the women. However police suspect Ms Adams and Ms Nicol were killed and their bodies disposed of at different times. None of the women appear to have been sexually assaulted.
Detectives added that the discovery of a body of a woman in Lincolnshire was "unlikely" to be connected to the Suffolk murders.
Around 100 officers are working on what is possibly the largest multiple murder inquiry faced by Suffolk police, who are believed to be pursuing several lines of inquiry. One theory is that the Ipswich deaths could be linked to a series of unsolved murders of prostitutes committed in Norwich over the past 15 years.
Officers yesterday revisited at least five mysterious murders of prostitutes in East Anglia stretching back to the death of 16-year-old Natalie Pearman in 1992.
Potentially, a killer could have moved from Norfolk to Ipswich. In both sets of murders the killer was suspected to have a sound knowledge of the area. Detectives are also examining the movements of 393 violent sex attackers known to have been active in Suffolk.
They will be focusing on 21 offenders listed under a multi-agency protection register as the "critical few" who pose "the highest and most imminent risk" to the public. But the main point of the investigation is a call for information from the dozens of sex workers and their clients who work in Ipswich's red-light district, an area of industrial streets near to the city's football ground.
One sex worker, who gave her name as Suzy, who knew at least one of the murdered prostitutes, said neither she nor her colleagues would heed the warning to stay off the streets. She said they were unlikely to approach police. "With Christmas coming up we don't have the choice to stay off the streets," she said. "The police make it sound like it's our fault if we get attacked."
She added: "Two women I know recently reported attacks. One was hurt badly, but police did nothing. They told her there was no chance it would come to court. That attitude gets around and so other women don't come forward. You have to ask how many women have reported violence and nothing was done?"
Ms Cheer admitted that police needed to reach out to the city's street sex workers, many of whom work to fund their drug habits. She added: "There are clearly bridges of trust that we need to build with some of the women out there."
London -- Tuesday December 12, 2006
Killer 'is probably white, in his late 20s or 30s, with local links'
Offender wants bodies to be found, says psychologist
The killer police are seeking for the murder of four prostitutes in Suffolk is likely to be a confident, well-organised man in his late 20s or 30s, a criminal psychologist has suggested. The suspect is probably white, with a history of violence rather than sex attacks, and has lived or worked locally, according to Michael Berry, a senior lecturer in forensic psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University.
"What comes across in the case is that it is so well planned," Mr Berry said. "The longer the time elapses between a killing and finding a body, the more difficult it is to pinpoint the specific time of death."
He believes the killer uses his local knowledge to conceal the body for long enough to destroy forensic evidence, but still ensure that his crimes will be discovered, which could be an important motivation for him.
"He is clearly organised and clever. He is unlikely to be obviously weird because the prostitutes are getting into the vehicle with him."
Prostitutes made easy targets, he said, because of the nature of their work. "If a guy is smooth and hands over the money and she is comfortable, she is likely to take him somewhere away from cameras, nearby. She will protect him by doing this. That's when he kills her."
The murderer is likely to be white, because killers tend to select targets within their own racial group, he said. He is also likely to have a history of violence, but not necessarily convictions.
Mr Berry said that the killer did not fit the profile of a sex offender. "The chances are he won't have a big criminal history of sex offences, because he is comfortable with prostitutes and sex is unlikely to be the motivation. He's likely to be someone mature enough to cope with the stress and enjoy the buzz he is getting from doing it.
"It is not at all an impulsive crime to pick someone up and kill them and drive a distance away with a body. He would have to feel comfortable and not panic. There is also a drive he has got - to kill in such a short space of time."
Mr Berry said psychotic or "vision" killers such as Peter Sutcliffe - who heard voices telling them to kill - were very rare. Instead, the killer may have a problem with prostitutes, either after undergoing a bad experience or for religious reasons.
He did expect more anger from a serial killer. "It may be that the police are keeping quiet about this, but you would expect the bodies to be battered or degraded. The fact that they were naked could be to degrade them or potentially not to leave DNA on them."
The speed of the killings was "very worrying", and raised the prospect that more than one man was involved. Mr Berry added: "Most people don't kill that quickly. I would expect him to carry on killing until he is caught. It will be a mind-game between him and the police."