Phone-box sex adverts face crackdown: BT asked to join action against blight of London's tourist areas

Click to follow
The Independent Online
WAR will be declared tonight on the saucy French maids, Australian stunners and black beauties whose business cards are flooding London's telephone boxes, alienating tourists and causing violence.

Proposals likely to be agreed by Westminster councillors include asking BT to cut prostitutes' phone lines when they advertise in phone boxes, calling for stronger legislation to end the problem, and urging phone box redesign.

The moves follow publication of a study of the problem carried out by academics from the University of Westminster on behalf of the council and BT.

This reveals that the number of cards has leapt by 500 per cent in two years. In 1992 an estimated 20,000 cards were placed weekly in 500 phone boxes within central London. This year it is more than 100,000.

The worst-affected areas are those most attractive to tourists - Oxford Street, Regent's Park, Mayfair, Soho and Covent Garden, the study found. Railway and tube stations are also badly hit, Marylebone the worst of all.

Not only London is suffering. The report to go before the council's environment sub-committee warns that Brighton, Hove, Edinburgh and Bournemouth have also been affected.

But a survey conducted by the Metropolitan Police through Interpol suggests that the phenomenon does not occur outside the UK.

The public dislikes the cards, according to a survey of 124 payphone users in central London for the study. Nine-tenths said that they thought some or all of the cards should be banned.

Prostitutes advertise in phone boxes less than half a mile from their address, and spend about pounds 100 a day on doing so, the report found.

'Cardmen distribute cards for prostitutes on a daily basis and it is estimated that they earn pounds 100 for placing 500 cards. They usually start at 9am restocking the cleaned boxes, generally following the cleaners,' it says.

The report to be considered by the committee includes an eight-point action plan supported by Miles Young, the leader of the Conservative-controlled council, who has taken a strong personal stand on the issue.

This recommends more frequent card removal, lobbying for stronger legislation and carrying out a test prosecution under the Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertising) Act 1992.

It also proposes trying authorised advertising of prostitutes' services via a concealed notice board within the phone box, or via a coin-operated vending machine offering a magazine that included classified displays for their use.

Yesterday a council spokesman said: 'This is a real problem. We know a resident who was threatened by a cardman when he started clearing the box outside his home. We are getting an increasing number of complaints.'

But a BT source said the company would be unlikely to stop prostitutes' incoming calls in retaliation for placing cards. 'We tried that twice in 1992 and Oftel decided it was contrary to our licence conditions,' he said.

'This problem seems to be growing but it is very difficult to find a solution. We clean the kiosks every day and the cards are replaced. I don't think we would redesign the boxes to incorporate concealed advertising. I am sure it would be illegal.'