Firms take steps to protect workers

FRIGHTENED town centre workers were booking up taxis and changing their journeys home today amid fears a serial killer is on the loose in Ipswich.

FRIGHTENED town centre workers were booking up taxis and changing their journeys home today amid fears a serial killer is on the loose in Ipswich.

As businesses move to help ensure the safety of their staff, a major employer has spoken of the steps being taken to protect staff and an Ipswich taxi company has moved to provide assurances to nervous women.

Fears amongst staff about walking home in the dark have prompted managers at the Debenhams store in Westgate Street, Ipswich, to take steps to protect them.

The store has joined forces with Marks and Spencer to provide a mini bus service to take workers from both stores to the train station and park and ride services in Ipswich.

Marks and Spencer has also provided all staff with panic alarms and put on an extra security guard to walk female employees to their cars after dark.

Neil Roberts, Debenhams store manager, said: “For the last five or six days we've been working with the staff about how they get home.

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“Now nearly every single member of staff is being collected at the end of the day and we have a guard who can walk people to their cars.

“We've also organised for people to share lifts home and put on the 16-seater mini bus to get people where they need to go safely.

“Everyone is concerned about getting home so it is important to be proactive about the situation.

“It is important to look out for each other and we'll continue with this until the situation changes.”

Other large shops in Ipswich have also stepped up their involvement in getting their staff home safely.

A spokeswoman for Woolworths said: “We've made sure that no one is going home alone, they're going home with other staff or getting picked up.”

At the Hawk Express taxi company in Ipswich, owner Kim Morphew said the firm had seen a massive increase in bookings.

“As of Monday the pick up of work has been colossal,” she said.

Hawk Express runs a 'text back' service, which means when a mobile phone is used to book a cab, they will send a text to that phone giving details of the type of car, its registration number and colour.

“A lot of people have been asking about the text back service,” Mrs Morphew said.

“I would say there is fear out there. Women have been phoning up to ask if our drivers are vetted by the police. We have been reassuring them because taxi drivers have an enhanced Criminal Records Bureau check, it's a legal requirement.

“We have also told our drivers to wait outside until the women are in their house and have closed the door - and if they don't do that they will be reprimanded.

“We are also getting companies phoning us to open accounts and pay for their staff to get home. The companies are going out of their way to make sure people are getting home safe.”

Elsewhere in the town, managers at pubs and clubs are also doing their bit to ease people's fears.

Andy Burford, manager of Pals nightclub in the Buttermarket, said: “Obviously, we are very concerned about the safety of the women that come here and will be taking extra measures to make sure people can get home safely.

“We have made arrangements with a cab company to make sure they will pick up from right outside our door, and we will also have male door staff who will wait with women until they are picked up.

“The same applies for all our female members of staff as well.”

Mr Burford said he and managers from other nightspots in the town had met with Suffolk Police on Wednesday to discuss making the safety of female customers their top priority.

He said: “It's hard to tell whether the news has stopped people coming out because of the time of year that it is - there are quite a few people out and about on their Christmas dos so it hasn't been as quiet as you might think.”

Liquid Envy in Cardinal Park is also putting in extra measures to make sure its customers get home safely over the festive period.

Their Homesafe project is intended to get customers to plan their night out, stick together and think about how they are getting home.

The club has linked up with local taxi firm Bee Line taxis and will have a marshal who will arrange taxis for clubbers to make sure they get home safely.

Customers will be able to wait inside the club, where hot toast and coffee will be served, until their taxi turns up.

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