Kerb crawling in Hackney: two men charged

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Two men have been charged with kerb-crawling this week, the latest in a series of arrests after a change in Hackney’s policing strategy to arrest clients of sex workers rather than prostitutes themselves.

The latest operation by police in Finsbury Park led to 11 arrests, six of which were for soliciting a sex worker in a public place. Two of the kerb crawlers were charged and a man who offered a plainclothes officer drugs is now on bail.

Around 30 men have been arrested since the change in tactic eight months ago.

Joining forces with Open Doors

However, the number of individuals charged is much lower as many who are caught kerb crawling are offered and accept a rehabilitation programme as an alternative to further police proceedings. The one day programme is run jointly by the police and Open Doors, an advice organisation for sex workers in East London funded by the NHS.

Although individuals with previous convictions are not eligible for the scheme, those who are pay £200 for the day-long course where they are taught about the risks of prostitution and the history of sex workers in the area. The money raised from the course fee is then used for programmes for sex workers, including preparation for job interviews and art classes.

Changing perceptions

Sergeant Richard Berns, who pioneered the new strategy, said: “Some men are of the opinion that they were helping the women by providing an opportunity for them to earn money. The course aims to break down those misconceptions.”

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The main areas being targeted by the police are Brownswood Road, Lordship Park and Shacklewell Lane, which they say are the hotspots for street-based sex work.

Jack Ceylani, 55, of Perch Street, owns a café on Shacklewell Lane. He said: “The prostitutes have been working here for at least eight years, since I opened my café. It’s terrible that they work here – there are often children around. But since cameras were put up outside the academy there are not so many.”

Sgt Berns added: “Kerb crawlers are charged under Section 51A of the Sexual Offences Act [so] they have their fingerprints and DNA taken. As kerb crawlers are more likely to be involved in sexual offences, I feel a measure of security in the knowledge that we retain their fingerprints and DNA on file”.

Nordic model

Sgt Berns’ approach was inspired by the Nordic model, where there has been a 70% reduction in the crime. The strategy criminalises purchasing sex, rather than selling it. The scheme pioneered at Hackney has also been adopted to some degree in neighbouring Waltham Forest and is being considered in Tower Hamlets.

He said: “I became aware of community concern around vice almost immediately when I took over the team. Under current legislation a prostitute can receive two street cautions before they are arrested and placed before the courts. My goal is not based on delivering higher arrest figures, but to find a long term solution to this issue and prevent a negative effect on the quality of life for local people.

Stacey Flyte, 30, of Pellerin Road, a secretary, said: “I don’t walk up Shacklewell Lane at night because of them. Men slow down in their cars and pick them up. I avoid it as much as possible but I have to come here early for work. I hope the police will stop them working around here; especially as there’s a school nearby.”

Sgt Berns concluded: “We understand the misery that street prostitution can cause to local residents and businesses and I will continue to use every resource available to me in order to remove vice culture from the streets of Hackney.”

More crime stories from the Hackney Post:

Man dies fleeing police

Haggerston the hotbed of Hackney crime