Woman chief constable backs legalised brothels

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Pressure from the police to liberalise the laws on prostitution grew yesterday as Britain's first woman chief constable backed calls from a senior colleague for brothels to be made legal.

Another chief constable proposed a Royal Commission to review the "muddled" laws on prostitution.

The debate on policing prostitution erupted yesterday, following the disclosure in the Independent that Keith Hellawell, Chief Constable of West Yorkshire police force, supported establishing licensed brothels in order to get prostitutes off the streets, allow thorough health checks and enable taxation. He described the laws on brothels as "absurd".

Pauline Clare, head of the Lancashire force, said that she would also like to see prostitution regulated in brothels.

She said: "It's a fact of life that prostitutes have been around for many, many years and there's obviously a need for the services that they provide.

"I would like to see them being regulated in a way that they would be much safer."

Paul Whitehouse, the chief constable of Sussex Police force, told the Independent that a review was needed of the laws concerning prostitutes, which he said were "muddled" and "did not make sense".

A prostitute can sell sex from private premises if she operates on her own. But if two or more women work under the same roof, it is an illegal brothel.

Mr Whitehouse said: "There needs to be a review of the laws of prostitution to consider alternative solutions." He added that any inquiry should be carried out by an independent Royal Commission.

However, he warned that legalising brothels could legitimise prostitution, which may force, or encourage, more women to become involved in the sex industry.

A statement by the Association of Chief Police Officers said yesterday that a detailed investigation ought to be carried out before any decision to change the law was considered.

Creating licensed brothels would place on a legal footing saunas and massage parlours where sex is on sale. It would allow health and safety checks to be made. A similar scheme already operates in Edinburgh and a growing number of police forces turn a blind eye to off-street prostitution.

Mr Hellawell said yesterday that prostitution was a social issue which the police had not "messed around with" since he joined the force 35 years ago. He said: "At the moment what we're not doing is resolving the issue - we're just pushing the problem about."

His proposals were attacked by Joyce Ansell, spokeswoman for the Josephine Butler Society, which campaigns against prostitution. She said: "People think regulated brothels are perfectly clean and hygienic, but it's pie in the sky. It doesn't work like that. People in brothels can't choose who they want in the way of customers.

"Even if the women are all clean and healthy, and have regular inspections, what about the men visiting them?"

Two prostitutes from West Yorkshire's most infamous red light district also spoke out against legalising brothels.

Karen, 30, said: "We could be working in saunas now, but we're not because we make more money this way.

"The only reason they're suggesting this is because they want to tax us."

Another prostitute, Linda, 24, added: "The police don't really bother the saunas now, so in a way, legalised brothels already exist."

Prostitution is not illegal in Britain, but soliciting and running a brothel are. Kerb crawling is an offence but not one for which people can be arrested. Those caught can be fined up to pounds 1,000 or cautioned. Some police forces write to suspects at home or via their employers if they are using a company car in a attempt to shame them over their offence.

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