City intends using private detectives in fight against pimps

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The Independent Online

A city council is planning to pay private detectives to go undercover and act as professional witnesses against suspected pimps and prostitutes.

A city council is planning to pay private detectives to go undercover and act as professional witnesses against suspected pimps and prostitutes.

The controversial proposal by Birmingham City Council is a response to growing anger from residents over the number of prostitutes working in the West Midlands and the lack of prosecutions against pimps.

But an association representing the city's police officers has described the idea as a "complete non-starter", and said policing should be left to the professionals.

Under the scheme, the council could pay up to £3,000 a week to private detective agencies forcovert surveillance on a suspected brothel in local authority accommodation. Evidence of illegal activity would be used to evict the tenants and could be used in criminal prosecutions. The use of professional civilian witnesses has been used in Manchester to track down drug dealers and nuisance neighbours, but Birmingham is believed to be the first city to consider using it against vice. Part of the difficulty in obtaining a successful prosecution or eviction has been the lack of willing witnesses, because of fears of retribution.

Carl Rice, the chairman of the council's prostitution task group, which includes health and police representatives, said the police rarely prosecuted pimps. "The real villains are the pimps who often use drugs and violence to coerce women into prostitution. In Birmingham, only one pimp has been prosecuted in 12 months.

"Our idea is to target pimps. This would include using an independent witness from a professional firm which often employs ex-police officers," Mr Rice said. But Inspector Joe Tildesley, chairman of the West Midlands Police Federation, said: "Such is the complexity of this type of investigation that it should be left to highly trained police officers. The idea is a complete non-starter."

Superintendent Keith Bristow, speaking on behalf of the police force, said: "West Midlands Police is not considering the use of professional witnesses as we already have more than 7,000 police officers who perform that role for us."

But he added: "I am sure if these proposals are adopted they will take into account issues surrounding the collection of evidence - such as ensuring it is collected ethically, with integrity and will withstand scrutiny in a court of law."

Nicky Adams, a spokeswoman for the English Collective of Prostitutes, said closing brothels would make women more vulnerable as they would be forced on to the streets.

The council's radical suggestion is part of a wider clampdown on the thriving sex trade in Birmingham. Two women caught soliciting have recently been banned from selling sex, in one of the first cases of its kind. They have also been sent out of a square mile of the city area of Ladywood, where an estimated 100 prostitutes work.