Legal Action for Women
Crossroads Women’s Centre PO Box 287 London NW6 5QU
Tel: 020 7482 2496 minicom/voice Fax: 020 7209 4761
Northumbria Chief Crown Prosecutor
CPS Northumbria, 122 Quayside
Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 3BD 17 September 2009
Dear Wendy Williams,
Re: Ms S, Crown Court ref: URN 09006/3060
We write urgently on behalf of Ms S to ask for the charges of “running a disorderly house” and/or of “running a bawdy house under common law” to be immediately dropped.
Ms S was visited by the police at 33 Southwick Road, Sunderland, SR5 1EJ on 2 June. She was held and questioned, and then charged at Washington Police station on 11 August 2009 with “running a disorderly house”. She appeared at Hough-Le-Spring Magistrates’ Court on 21 August, where the Magistrate ruled that the charge does not exist, and he changed it to “running a bawdy house contrary to common law”. The case was then referred to the Crown Court, to be heard tomorrow, Friday 18 September. Yet the paperwork given to Ms S at the Magistrates’ Court still lists the charge as “running a disorderly house”.
Ms S contacted us in June, and told us that two officers had stopped a man leaving her house about 4.30pm. After questioning, they let him go and then banged on her back door, shouting and demanding that she open it. Although Ms S fully co-operated, she was handcuffed. When she asked to change her clothes only one cuff was opened. Male officers stayed in the room while Ms S changed her clothes which she found very humiliating. Ms S was taken to Washington Police Station while officers came back and searched and took photographs inside the house. No warrant to search the premises was produced.
Ms S was held for about four hours and questioned. The police claimed that she was earning money by selling sex and said that this is a crime. Under which offence is this a crime? Ms S repeatedly told police officers that she was not doing anything illegal but was ignored. Officers made disparaging comments saying why didn’t Ms S “get a job in Primark”. I’m sure that you will agree that it is highly inappropriate for police to be offering employment advice and promoting shop work over the other (legal) ways that people find to make a living? Officers also tried to imply that Ms S was a morally corrupting influence by saying that “children were in the area”. What were they implying? What of anything that Ms S was doing would even come to the attention of children in the area? As a dedicated and caring mother herself, Ms S was particularly upset by this.
Ms S believes she was arrested because of complaints from a neighbour at 31 Southwick Road, who had targetted her for racist abuse and harassment since Christmas. Incidents include him verbally abusing Ms S in the street, calling her a “wog”, saying “go back where you come from . . . Black prostitute”, repeatedly throwing faeces on her window, and smashing her car window.
Ms S informed the police about the abuse on 12 March 2009 yet no police investigation has taken place. We have asked the police to investigate. Why did racist threats and abuse against Ms S go uninvestigated, yet police resources were used to investigate and prosecute her? There was no violence, illegality or coercion by Ms S, but she was handcuffed, interrogated, held for hours and threatened with prosecution on the basis of allegations that she is exchanging sexual services for money, alone and in private.
If no action is taken against the violent, threatening, committed racist, he will be given a licence to continue acting as he chooses. It is likely that his violence will escalate and be directed at other Black people, possibly causing serious injury.
Ms S is a survivor of sexual violence she suffered as a child. We first met her over ten years ago, when she contacted Black Women’s Rape Action Project and Women Against Rape and bravely came forward to give evidence against her abuser, a manager in a children’s home.
In summary, we ask you to immediately drop the charges because:
o The charge of “running a disorderly house” no longer exists. The charge of “running a bawdy house under common law” is so outdated it has hardly ever been used before. Why now?
o It is not in the public interest. Ms S was not causing any nuisance, but was herself the victim of ongoing racist abuse. She had made preparations to leave the premises weeks before she was arrested, because of the relentless harassment she had suffered.
o There is widespread and increasing public opposition, including among members of parliament and peers, to women being targetted and criminalised for working independently and consensually. In this case, there was no involvement by other people.
o Public opposition to arrest and prosecution of sex workers is centered on concern for public safety, and an acknowledgment, particularly since the Ipswich murders, that criminalisation deters women from reporting violence and makes them more vulnerable to attack.
o The public is also increasingly concerned at police priorities which result in police resources being used to raid premises where there is no violence or coercion, while the investigation of rape and other violence continues to be de-prioritised, downgraded and dismissed.
o This threat of prosecution has hung over Ms S for months, and is having a very detrimental effect on her health, and her family’s welfare. Ms S is supporting her two children, her daughter who is a university student and her severely disabled young son who has suffered from necrotizing enteritis since he was born. He is seriously ill and has had to undergo a series of operations, and she has had to work hard to provide extra care for him to raise his quality of life.
There is no justification for these charges against Ms S. As such, we have to consider that racism is at play in the way she is being targeted? If the prosecution goes ahead, many would view it as vindictive and persecutory. We therefore respectfully ask that you exercise your discretion and drop this prosecution.
We would also like an explanation from the police about the way Ms S was treated. Can you help with that? For example, is it usual to ask a woman to change her clothes in the presence of male officers? As a matter of urgency, can you also look into what is being done to investigate the racist attacks against Ms S?
cc David Gray solicitors
Rt Hon Michael Jack MP
Nazir Afzal, Director, CPS London
Legal Action for Women
Crossroads Women’s Centre
230a Kentish Town Road
London NW5 2AB
Tel: 020 7482 2496
Fax: 020 7209 4761