UK sex workers’ rights case collapses after five years

Defendants in a case in the United Kingdom involving sex workers' rights planned on using a novel defence to fight the criminal charge of keeping a brothel. (Frederick Florin, AFP)

Defendants in a case in the United Kingdom involving sex workers' rights planned on using a novel defence to fight the criminal charge of keeping a brothel. (Frederick Florin, AFP)

A British court case that would have tested the right of sex workers to offer services together in brothels to protect themselves from abusive clients has collapsed after a police officer refused to give evidence.

Three women appeared before a crown court after the brothel they had run together in Greater Manchester was raided in July 2011. Jane Young, Deborah Daniels and Catherine McGarr had all been charged with keeping a brothel and faced up to seven years in jail if they were found guilty during the trial at Manchester crown court.

But after five years of being kept on bail the trial collapsed this week after the chief investigating officer in the case said he would not be able to give evidence on medical grounds.

The case would have been a first in the United Kingdom as the defendants were planning to use a novel defence to fight the criminal charge of keeping a bordello.

The women were planning to argue that, under the Human Rights Act, it was against the rights of sex workers not to allow them to work together in safety.

The court heard that Detective Constable Philip Anderson, who had brought the case against the women, would not be able to give evidence. Despite being in the court building, the officer did not make an appearance during the hearing.

David Temkin, prosecuting, said he had had a “frank discussion” with the officer and it had been agreed that he would not be able to attend the trial due to his “worsening health”.

The exact details of Anderson’s medical conditions were then discussed in secret but it was revealed that his decision had been approved by two detective chief inspectors in the force.

The law around prostitution in the UK is complicated. The act of prostitution and exchanging money for sex is not in itself illegal – but a string of laws criminalises activities around it.

The 1956 Sexual Offences Act bans running a brothel and it is against the law to loiter or solicit sex on the street. Under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 it is an offence to cause or incite prostitution or control it for personal gain.

Niki Adams from the English Collective of Prostitutes, which was supporting the three women, labelled the prosecution as outrageous, and branded it a miscarriage of justice. 

Adams said the women had previously had the endorsement of police to keep the brothel and officers had turned a blind eye.

But following an alleged policy change, the premises in north Manchester were raided in July 2011.

Adams said: “Police had previously turned a blind eye to it because even they could see it was safer for women to work together. But then all of a sudden they were raided and it has been five years while they have been on bail –  which is just outrageous.” – © Guardian News & Media 2016

 

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