Liverpool ready to create Britain's first official zone for sex workers

The high road through Everton Brow, 300ft above Liverpool, is lined with signs warning motorists: "Kerb-crawlers beware - police patrol area." But they did not deter the teenager in micro-skirt and knee-length boots who marched along in search of some early business at 11.30 yesterday morning.

The high road through Everton Brow, 300ft above Liverpool, is lined with signs warning motorists: "Kerb-crawlers beware - police patrol area." But they did not deter the teenager in micro-skirt and knee-length boots who marched along in search of some early business at 11.30 yesterday morning.

The girl was interested by the approach of a car but she was not in the mood for talking. When business is dead, this is the time of day when prostitutes like her will pay their pimps a cut of last night's earnings (£200 if they're lucky) and pick up their next fix of heroin. So in temperatures just above freezing, she strutted off up Netherfield Road, beyond the boarded- up tenement blocks which mark out one of Britain's most impoverished districts.

Today, Liverpool council is expected to set in motion its plans to end such solitary, dangerous journeys, which the city's 100 prostitutes take most days, by voting to establish Britain's first "managed zones" for sex workers. The council is likely to seek Home Office approval for five zones which will remove prostitutes from residential areas such as Everton Brow and introduce them to patrolled, well-lit areas in light industrial districts.

The option was put to all local authorities in a Green Paper published last August by former Home Secretary, David Blunkett, and for regulars at the Inn on the Hill pub, on Everton Brow, the change cannot come soon enough. Ever since the city's prostitutes were driven up here by the gentrification of the Edwardian properties at their former haunt near the Anglican cathedral, locals such as Keith Goulding have been adjusting to life in a red-light zone.

Any woman who walks Netherfield Road is a target for kerb-crawlers: from the women's darts team from the pub, who have taken to leaving in groups after Tuesday night matches, to Mr Goulding's wife, who is in her sixties. "Can you believe it? They just pull up and ask her: 'Hey love, how much?'," Mr Goulding said yesterday.

The demolition of several local tenements has removed some of the prostitutes, by obliterating the secluded spots they provided. But the mid-evening procession of prostitutes into the pub, to take cover from police and inject themselves in the lavatories, remains as much a part of life as ever. As does the occasional murder. The body of one woman who walked the Brow was found dismembered in a bin bag in nearby St Domingo Vale last year.

The solution to all this has been uncovered by public health scientists at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU), who examined so-called "tipple zones" introduced to light industrial areas at Utrecht, in Holland. When businesses there close at 7.30pm, a red-light district opens up. Prostitutes are picked up in an area at the front of industrial buildings and take their clients to clinically titled "finishing-off areas" for sex. "The areas are patrolled by police or neighbourhood patrol teams to make sure rules are obeyed and the girls are not [attacked]" said LJMU's professor of public health, Mark Bellis.

The idea, which builds on the unofficial toleration zones for prostitutes tried in Edinburgh and Glasgow, has found support from a city council desperate to clean up the streets in time for its year as European Capital of Culture in 2008. Consultation has found more than 80 per cent in agreement that managed zones - earmarked for central Kempston Street and Jamaica Street - would allow better policing of prostitution.

But many have their doubts. Kevin Baker, who runs a printing business in Jamaica Street, dismissed the notion that the industrial units stop work at 7.30pm. "I finish at 10pm, or later if I've got an order on, and I don't fancy walking out of the door straight into a prostitution zone," he said. The professional occupants of two property developments under construction in the area may soon feel the same.

Leanne Latimer, 21, a mother, was another sceptic. "The prostitutes get beaten up anyway but once people know where to find them, they'll have a very bad time," she said.

Her views matched those of Jenny, a prostitute. "It's a bogus argument about safety because the areas are out of the way [and] not safe," Jenny said. "If everybody knows where they are working it leaves them open to attack, either entering or leaving, as people know they are going to earn money."

A city councillor, Flo Clucas, delegated to take the lead on the issue, admits that getting women out of prostitution altogether is the ultimate goal. A city-wide project offering prostitutes education, advice and clothes will begin in April, with that aim in mind.

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