100 girls have been saved from the threat of sex trade

IPSWICH: More than 100 schoolgirls have been identified as being at risk from the sex trade in the town, The Evening Star can reveal today.

But police and community workers believe their strategy for beating the menace is paying off – and that the majority of those at threat have been helped.

The multi-agency five-year prostitution strategy started in April 2007 in the wake of Steve Wright’s murderous spree in Ipswich in the run-up to the previous Christmas. Five women, Tania Nicol, Gemma Adams, Paula Clennell, Anneli Alderton and Annette Nicholls, who were working in the sex trade, were all murdered in late 2006.

Superintendent Alan Caton, Suffolk Constabulary’s head of force public protection directorate, said it was important to recognise those at risk as early as possible.

He said: “We are talking about girls who are being sexualised at a very young age and are spending a lot of time with older men – and we are also looking at those on the edge of the drug scene.

“What has happened in Ipswich is that a multi-agency approach has been adopted. We are working with health professionals, education, and social services to steer these youngsters away from the dangers.

“It has been a huge success over the four and a half years since the prostitution strategy really kicked in here in Ipswich.

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“In all my 30 years in the police service talking about multi-agency working this has to be the most successful example.”

Mr Caton pointed out that street prostitution had been eliminated as a problem in Ipswich, although there was still an issue with the off-street sex trade.

The prostitution strategy is due to run out in March next year, but Mr Caton said he was looking to establish a new strategy that would be open-ended.

He said: “We will be looking at budgets for that in the autumn but it is a priority for us.”

Joanna Spicer is currently chairman of the Suffolk Police Authority and was the county councillor responsible for public protection at the time the prostitution strategy was introduced.

She said: “I think there has been great progress in this over the years. It is a problem that needs to be tackled and the various agencies have worked well together to identify and help those at risk.

“The figure of 100 young people identified as being potentially at risk was mentioned at the domestic violence forum, which I chair, and indicates that there is certainly still a need to continue with the strategy.”

n Is enough done to protect young girls from the sex trade in Ipswich? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk