Sir Paul Condon, Metropolitan Police Commissioner, said he was against legalising brothels or setting up red light "zones of tolerance" but favoured a more liberal approach to off-street prostitution. One suggestion was to allow several women to sell sex from a single premises as a way of offering protection to prostitutes.
His comments were triggered by an interview in the Independent with Keith Hellawell, Chief Constable of West Yorkshire, in which he called for the legalisation of brothels. This was supported by Pauline Clare, Chief Constable of Lancashire, who agreed that licensing saunas, massage parlours and escort agencies where prostitutes plied their trade would enable greater protection, health checks and a source of tax.
Sir Paul said he supported the findings of an investigation in 1984-85 by the Criminal Law Review Committee which suggested allowing more than one prostitute to work in the same premises. However, he was opposed to sanctioning legal brothels. He said this could lead to "no go areas" for the police in which organised crime, pimps and drug dealing would flourish. "You will not necessarily drive the prostitutes off the street," he said. He also argued for laws to make kerb crawling an arrestable offence.
Like most police forces, vice officers in London rarely raid sauna or massage parlours that are fronts for brothels. A Met spokesman said that action was only taken when organised crime was involved, prostitutes were being forced to work or they were causing a nuisance.
Paul Whitehouse, Chief Constable of Sussex, has proposed the setting up of a review of the laws on prostitution.
The spokeswoman for the Home Office said yesterday that there were no plans to relax the laws on prostitution.
Sir Paul was speaking at the launch of the Met's annual report, which disclosed that the Operation Eagle Eye blitz on street crime was helping to reduce muggings. Although up to March there had been a 15 per cent rise in street crime this had been converted to a 5 per cent fall in the past seven months.
The scheme caused a row after Sir Paul said that young blacks were responsible for much of the street crime. Results showed that 69 per cent of people arrested in Operation Eagle Eye were black.
Sir Paul attacked what he described as the "lottery" amounts being awarded in damages against police. His comments follow a rise in awards against the Met from pounds 86,000 in the last financial year to pounds 627,000.
The report also revealed: a rise in the number of reported sexual offences by 10 per cent to 6,790, and a 10 per cent fall in the number of arrests; that the success in reducing house burglaries has come to a halt with the number of break-ins stabilising at about 103,000; and that, proportionately, black people are 2.5 times more likely to be stopped and searched than whites.