Prostitutes leap to the defence of first man detained in inquiry

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Tom Stephens was the self-styled protector of Ipswich's prostitutes and yesterday they leapt to his defence.

As police were granted a further 36 hours to question the "sad and lonely" supermarket worker and former special constable until tomorrow morning, local sex workers expressed their astonishment that he was even being considered a suspect in the murder of five women.

"I would stake my life on Tom's innocence," said Lou, 28. "Tom comes down here and helps us girls. If any of us haven't got anywhere to stay, he will put us up for the night. He will lend us money and feed us. He is just so caring. I am shocked and very sad that he has been arrested."

Jacci, 34, a former prostitute, said Mr Stephens had been known to all the local working women and they had his phone number in case they needed help. "He was an all right guy - nice and sweet, with no nasty bone in his body," she said. "He hasn't got it in him to hurt anyone."

A quiet, awkward boy who grew into an "introverted nerd" according to school friends, Mr Stephens conceded he had "compromised his morals" and turned to paying or swapping favours for sex after the break-up of his marriage three years ago.

In a bizarre series of interviews Mr Stephens, 37, who was arrested at 7.20am on Monday, claimed to have been a trusted friend of the five women, even a boyfriend to the youngest, 19-year-old Tania Nicol. Although he acknowledged that he was a likely suspect, he denied any involvement in the five murders.

Yesterday forensics officers continued to comb his home for clues,extending their search into the garden. But the arrest of a second man casts a new light on the case. Unlike the first arrest, sources described the latest one as "significant".