Pickets prove bad for business: Early success for street patrols as vice takings decline and prostitutes leave area

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The Independent Online
BLACK leatherette low-cut bra, lace-up girdle and high, very high, heels is not the average suburban attire for a quiet day at home by the window, writes James Cusick. But then Wendy - 'not my real name' - is not dressed for an afternoon with her Mills and Boon.

'Business is down, right down,' she says. 'It's those Pakistanis. They want to drive prostitution right out of Balsall Heath so they can get their hands on the property.'

Wendy's pounds 1,500-a-week income of past times is now down to half that since the Muslim community of the south Birmingham suburb decided 'enough was enough' four weeks ago.

Painted signs - 'Kerb crawlers beware] You will be reported to the police' - are placed at street corners and the pickets, mostly elderly Asians, sit next to the boards to, as they say, 'chase away the dirty men'.

Lack of 'dirty men' means the small sheet-free single bed in Wendy's front room is not as occupied as it once was. She charges from pounds 15 to pounds 50 for 'a full service', and pounds 150 is now a 'very good day'.

She says the council's 'so- called zones or whatever' have been discussed in the trade 'but none of the girls would go'. She says the way things are 'is safe' and that prostitutes have been working the area for 60 years. 'None of us would go to a dangerous industrial estate.'

The council's latest decision indicates that Wendy and her colleagues may yet survive being cleansed from Balsall Heath. Only eight women are 'resident' prostitutes working from houses. The picket has yet to challenge their long-term tenancy. But those working the street corners, some residents say, have been affected - they now walk the streets further south.

Some of the small non- Asian community of Balsall Heath - roughly 20 per cent - appeared delighted that their streets seemed safer following the Asian community's action.

Others are more sceptical. 'What happens when the good weather ends? Once the pickets are off the streets we all know what'll happen - the pros will be back.'

Karamat Chaudhry, one of the five leaders of the citizens' patrol committee, maintains that if the prostitutes are still there when winter comes 'then we'll hire caravans, buses, tents, anything, but we will rid this area of prostitutes'.