A town in fear: The fatal legacy of Doncaster's lady-killing bouncer

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The Independent Online

THE PROPORTION of heterosexuals infected with the HIV virus in Doncaster is nearly twice the national average, because of Steve Robson, a carrier who boasted of having sex with hundreds of women.With more than half of all its cases since records began diagnosed in the last two years, the town will take generations to recover from Mr Robson's string of conquests.

THE PROPORTION of heterosexuals infected with the HIV virus in Doncaster is nearly twice the national average, because of Steve Robson, a carrier who boasted of having sex with hundreds of women.With more than half of all its cases since records began diagnosed in the last two years, the town will take generations to recover from Mr Robson's string of conquests.

A former night-club bouncer, he boasted last year of serial sexual encounters with women in doorways and alleys. Some of them, it was said, acceded to his demands in return for entry to the night club where he worked.

Mr Robson died in July at the age of 42 but his promiscuity haunts Doncaster. Figures just published show the virus he passed on to others is still being transmitted to young people in the South Yorkshire town.

Mr Robson said he could not begin to remember all their faces but they certainly remembered his. He infected at least five women with HIV.

The latest statistics reveal that in the last 12 months health officials recorded eight new cases in Doncaster, six of them heterosexually transmitted. The previous year they recorded 10 heterosexual cases, compared with a handful in the previous decade.

Mr Robson is understood to be linked to most of the six new heterosexual cases. Doncaster health authority acknowledges that it is still suffering "a hangover" from Mr Robson and expects further linked cases to be identified in the next two to three years. "It is still being passed on," said Dr John Radford, Doncaster's director of public health.

A raft of figures illustrates the problem. More than half the HIV cases diagnosed in the town since records began in 1986 have been in the last two years: 26 of a 13-year total of 43. The proportion of heterosexual cases here is nearly twice the national average. Of 37,000 infections recorded nationally since 1986, 20 per cent are heterosexual, but 37 per cent are in Doncaster.

The Steve Robson story has pushed Doncaster ahead of the rest of the country in terms of HIV awareness, according to medical professionals. Traditionally, doctors have found it difficult to persuade heterosexuals to take tests for the infection because of old - and false - assumptions about HIV being a virus transmitted by homosexuals and intravenous drug users.

Publicity surrounding the Robson case has heightened awareness and reduced the stigma that heterosexuals tend to associate with HIV tests. "There is a perception here that Aids is a heterosexual disease. People are now far more accepting of testing," Dr Radford said.

This is undoubtedly a good thing. The town has a notorious pub and club scene, and high levels of teenage sexual activity. There is a high incidence of the sexually transmitted disease chlamydia and women infected with this have a far greater chance of infection with the HIV virus.

Local officials have bristled at the tales of sleaze which emerged after revelations about Mr Robson's activities. They feared that public attention would be deflected from the healthy restructuring of the local economy.

Nevertheless, at the Emporium pub in the centre of town there is little talk of new service industries, but the name Steve Robson is never far from anyone's lips. "It was a terrible time," said Janet, a customer. It has made every woman think differently. It won't go away will it? There's still the feeling that we're not safe. He took a feeling of safety away. The virus is out there now."

The rest of Britain will soon catch up with Doncaster. The numbers of new heterosexual HIV cases across Britain exceeded homosexually transmitted cases for the first time in figures published this year (albeit by only four)."This is the way it's going nationally," said Ken Allen, consultant in communicable disease control at Doncaster health authority. "It is becoming a heterosexual disease. But we are ahead of the field."

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