Red light crackdown changes district

VIDEO IPSWICH'S red-light district is a changing place today. Since last year's red-light killings stunned the world, gradual changes have been achieved in Ipswich's most notorious neighbourhood.

IPSWICH'S red-light district is a changing place today. Since last year's red-light killings stunned the world, gradual changes have been achieved in Ipswich's most notorious neighbourhood. Suffolk police say fewer women are now working the streets and more men have been arrested in the last eight months for using prostitutes than have been in years. Chief reporter GRANT SHERLOCK joined the undercover police involved in Operation Impression to watch them at work.

WITH the words “POLICE, STOP” the worlds of two men come crashing down around them.

Caught in one of the most humiliating positions imaginable, they are found in the company of prostitutes in Ipswich's red-light district.

They are among almost 90 men caught in the act since the launch of Suffolk police's biggest ever crackdown on the men who create a demand for the street sex industry in Ipswich.

The aim is simple but ambitious - to rid Ipswich of its street prostitution problem within five years.

The method has two sides. The first point of attack is to arrest the men who use prostitutes and haul those who are repeat offenders before the courts.

Most Read

The second is to offer the women who sell their bodies on the streets help to change their lives for the better.

To achieve the first aim Suffolk police has put together its most sophisticated kerb crawling crackdown ever and for the second it is working with a host of other agencies to give the women the support they need to break free from crippling drug addictions and turn their lives around.

Using plain clothes police officers in unmarked cars and a network of CCTV cameras which capture images from even the darkest corners of the red-light district there is little, if any, escape for kerb crawlers.

When The Evening Star joined the Operation Impression team out on the streets earlier this week officers were out in three unmarked cars while others watched Ipswich Borough Council's web of CCTV cameras from its control room.

At first everything seemed quiet. Then, before long, a silver Audi A6 was seen driving around the red-light district.

Repeatedly the driver drove along Portman Road, Handford Road and London Road before heading out of town, only to return a few minutes later as if searching for a working girl to pick up.

Little did he know, but his every move was being watched and his registration number was recorded.

This time though there were no prostitutes to pick up, but before long they too appeared.

The first took up a position at the junction of Handford Road and Portman Road at 9pm. She was also being watched.

All the police parked nearby had to wait for was word from the CCTV operators that she had been picked up and they would pounce.

Sergeant Karl Nightingale, one of the officers involved in Operation Impression, said “CCTV is invaluable. We've had occasions where somebody has said 'she approached me' but you can clearly see them driving round a few times so you can't refute that.

“They CCTV guys basically are the eyes to see the females and the pick-ups.”

Within an hour a second working girl appeared on the streets.

By 10.05pm the police have their first breakthrough. A man has been picked up approaching a prostitute and together they walked toward Benezet Street.

Not far behind them is Sgt Nightingale. After a quick search he finds the pair hidden in a dark alley in a compromising position.

Immediately the man is arrested on suspicion of soliciting a woman for the purpose of prostitution and taken to Ipswich police station.

Sgt Nightingale stays behind to interview the prostitute, who tells him the man paid her £30 to perform a sex act on him.

By this stage more women are out on the streets. About four or five are now looking for customers.

A Mercedes A-class is seen repeatedly driving around the red-light district. Several times he stops to talk to the prostitutes and the police are watching his every move.

But each time he makes contact with a working girl he drives away without picking her up. His registration is taken and, like the Audi driver, he will receive a letter in the post asking him to explain his reason for visiting the red-light district.

Then, at 12.10am, comes the breakthrough the officers have waited all night for. CCTV spots a vehicle picking up a prostitute in Burlington Road.

The officers quickly position themselves so that all three cars follow at a distance. The hope is that the driver will park up in a quiet location, allowing the police to move in.

But this driver apparently gets spooked, he drives around the town before dropping the prostitute back in Alderman Road.

All three police cars block him in and he is arrested for kerb crawling.

The shock is obvious on the driver's face.

Sgt Nightingale said: “That vehicle was obviously doing laps around the area. We had to be sure we got the pick-up.

“We followed the vehicle and it did a very strange route, then returned back into the prostitution area.

“It's clear that at that time there was no excuse for this person to be in the area and picking up a prostitute.”

FEWER women are now working the streets of Ipswich's red-light district than when Suffolk police launched their crackdown on kerb crawlers.

At the launch of Operation Impression 12 girls regularly worked the streets, while about another 12 occasionally sold themselves for sex.

But today only 8 or 9 regularly work the streets, while roughly another six appear in the red-light district occasionally.

Sergeant Karl Nightingale, one of the officers involved in Operation Impression - the police crackdown aimed at ridding Ipswich of street prostitution - said nearly 90 men had been arrested since the launch of the operation earlier this year.

He said: “We've arrested more people in the last eight or nine months than we have in absolutely years.

“The residents in this area have obviously seen a lot. They've experienced a lot of prostitutes being picked up, cars driving around and around, condoms being found in gardens and very anti-social behaviour.

“Now they are seeing the progress. We are building up that trust again between the residents and the police.

“They've been very encouraged to see we're not just talking, they see we are doing something and taking it seriously.

“There are less vehicles driving around than there were originally and there are less prostitutes out on the streets. So we are having a big impact.

“We do not want people coming to Ipswich for the use of prostitutes.”

Operation Impression - arrests so far

Total - 87

Arrests for kerb crawling - 66

Arrests of males for outraging public decency - 14

Arrests of males for persistent soliciting of women for prostitution - 7

Crimes recorded for women soliciting for the purposes of prostitution (not arrested but offered assistance to change their lives) - 78

Kerb crawlers - where they are from

Ipswich - 29

Other areas of Suffolk - 25

Essex (mainly north Essex) - 13

Cambridgeshire - 4

Areas outside East Anglia - 15