Legal Action for Women
Crossroads Women’s Centre PO Box 287 London NW6 5QU
Tel: 020 7482 2496 minicom/voice Fax: 020 7209 4761
Sir Paul Stephenson
Metropolitan Police Commissioner,
New Scotland Yard, 8-10 Broadway,
London, SW1H 0BG 19 March 2009
Dear Sir Paul Stephenson,
We write to complain about the visit by police officers from Charing Cross and West End Central police station on 17 March to five flats in Shepherds Market and Trebeck Street, London, W1. Women at the premises have reported to us that seven officers entered premises in neighbouring streets between 1-4pm. All the officers were in plain clothes and seemed to be wearing bullet proof jackets. Niki Adams from our organization was called by one of the women whilst she was being questioned and spoke to Sergeant Chris Scott, the officer in charge.
Women report that two officers initially came to the door. Ms A in Trebeck Street opened the door on the safety chain. The police officer showed his ID and then put his foot in the door. Ms A said that she recognized the officer from other visits and told him that there was no need for him to put his foot in the door as she would let him in. Ms B in Shepherd Market also recognized the police officer at the door and let them in. In both cases, five other officers came in behind the two officers. No warrant to search the premises was ever produced.
Officers started to search the premises opening drawers and asking for the key to a cupboard. Women were asked for their name and address, their mobile phone number and other questions such as whether they were responsible for the rent, how much they earned and whether they had been to prison. Officers asked for CCTV footage from cameras on the premises and in one case at least took the camera from the mounting, although CCTV is installed for women’s safety. Photos were taken by the police of the premises yet Ms Adams was specifically told by Sgt Scott that no photos were being taken. Some women were taken aside and asked if they were being forced to work. Other women were threatened with being prosecuted for controlling prostitution. One officer told a woman to go and get a job in Tescos. Others were told that the police intended to close the flats before the summer.
Shockingly, despite women being willing to answer questions, the police treated them rudely and disrespectfully. Officers stood inappropriately close to women’s faces and asked questions in a bullying and intimidatory way. When women responded, officers shouted at them that they were liars. One woman who had worked in the premises for 25 years was escorted from the premises and told that if police saw her there again she would be arrested.
The purpose of the visit was never explained to women. When Niki Adams asked Sgt Scott this he said the visit was as a result of complaints by local people. What is the nature of these complaints? Is this the police action that would be taken in response to complaints against any premises or business? Would the local corner shop be invaded in this way on the basis of unsubstantiated complaints? Would the police feel entitled to enter without a warrant, harass the occupants, take photos and make threats of prosecution?
Why are police time and resources being used to harass women working safely from premises? Public opinion, especially since the murders of five young women in Ipswich, has been resolutely against sex workers being persecuted and criminalized. People feel strongly that the priority for the police and courts should be protection. Women Against Rape, whom we work with closely, has in the last few days highlighted in the media cases where rape is systematically deprioritised by the police. If women are forced out of premises they will be made more vulnerable to violence – evidence shows that women working on the street are 10 times more likely to be attacked.
We would like an immediate explanation for this police action and an apology for the treatment women received.
Head of Clubs and Vice, Charing Cross Police Station
Independent Police Complaints Commission
Baroness Morris of Bolton
Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith MP
John McDonnell MP
Lynne Jones MP
Mark Field MP