Crackdown nets 14,000 call-girl cards

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A total of 14,000 cards advertising the services of prostitutes were recovered from Covent Garden and Leicester Square payphone kiosks during a four-day clean-up operation.

The drive is part of a joint campaign by British Telecom and Westminster council. They want to make it uneconomic for prostitutes and their 'carders or 'runners to use phone boxes to advertise.

The large volume of cards collected has surprised the authority, which has had to purchase special weighing equipment because there are too many to count. It estimates the borough's phone kiosks are providing advertising space for at least half of all cards placed in London boxes.

Westminster's policy and resources committee agreed last week to fund an intensive eight-week card removal programme to the tune of pounds 20,000.

Teams of council officials, BT cleaners and private contractors will scour boxes on a day-to-day basis in problem areas such as Oxford Street, Bayswater Road, Edgware Road, Mayfair, Leicester Square and its environs.

All cards will be weighed by Westminster cleansing department staff to ascertain the quantity involved. The campaign will be assessed to find other ways to stop advertisers.

A Westminster University report, submitted to the council in June, showed the use of vice cards in telephone kiosks was growing.

Westminster council said: 'We have had reports of residents being threatened by the carders. This is a problem that is growing at a huge rate.

It is estimated more than 50,000 cards are being deposited each week in Westminster alone, out of a total of 100,000 being placed in kiosks throughout London. Two years ago about 20,000 cards could be found in 500 kiosks in the city.

BT gets an estimated annual revenue of pounds 136,000 from calls made in connection with the cards. The cost of cleaning kiosks is about pounds 50,000.

A carder can earn pounds 100 for placing 500 cards. One prostitute interviewed said it cost her pounds 100 a day to advertise, about 33 per cent of her operating costs.

The placing of cards in call boxes is largely a British phenomenon, according to Westminster. In other parts of Europe, prostitutes advertise openly through more conventional channels.

The council says the wording and illustrations on the cards is becoming more and more explicit. A large percentage offer 'corrective services - various forms of flagellation.

Under previous legislation, the Post Offices Act of 1953, unauthorised advertising in telephone boxes was an offence. But the practice is not covered by the 1984 Telecommunications Act.

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