Prostitutes target vicar

Rev Alan Byrom, below, says the girls 'are taking punters into the church grounds
Rev Alan Byrom, below, says the girls 'are taking punters into the church grounds

Police chiefs have ordered a crackdown on prostitution after a vicar and his parishioners were propositioned outside his church.

Town centre hotel owners says an increase in prostitution around Palatine Road, Central Drive and Reads Avenue is driving away visitors.

And the vicar of Christ Church with All Saints Road, the Rev Alan Byrom, says the girls are taking their punters into the grounds of the church leaving a litter of condoms and syringes behind them.

Girls have also approached nearby hotel customers in a bid to drum up trade.

Over the next fortnight police are to step up patrols in the area, speaking to prostitutes and warning off their customers as part of the Talbot Prostitution Action Plan.

Police believe hard-up girls, many of them drug addicts, are being pimped out by the boyfriends to make cash.

Proposals to ease the problem for residents include a new gate blocking access to the church at night and the moving of a bus stop which is used as a shelter by girls.

‘I have been propositioned a few times and so have my parishioners’

A new plan will help tackle a growing problem with sex workers plying their trade on the streets of Blackpool.

The campaign is being led by a working group of police officers and representatives of hotels, support agencies and Blackpool Council.

Insp James Martin, of the Blackpool Central neighbourhood policing team, said: “The problem has got worse in a concentrated area.

“These are local people who have fallen upon difficult times, usually aged 20 and upwards.

“I do not believe there are large numbers of pimps or that sex work is being controlled or organised by a gang, but some of these women may possibly be working in association with a relative or a boyfriend who could be a look-out, a form of protection or a pimp.”

Insp Martin said that arrest It It is one of the oldest industries in history - but what really is the solution to the problem of prostitution?

That’s the question that has been asked for years.

But it is hoped a new plan will help tackle the problem of those plying their trade on the streets of Blackpool.

The campaign is being led by a working group of police officers, hotel owners, support groups and Blackpool Council.

Insp James Martin of the Blackpool Central neighbourhood policing team, said: “The problem has got worse in a concentrated area.

“These are local people who have fallen upon difficult times, usually aged 20 and upwards.

“I do not believe that sex work is being controlled or organised by a gang but some of these women are working in association with a relative or boyfriend who could be a look-out, a form of protection or a pimp.”

Insp Martin said arresting sex workers and sending them to court was not the long term answer.

“It might stop them for a week but you have to look at why they are engaging in this activity and whether they have got lifestyle issues like addictions to drugs or alcohol which can be addressed.

“If someone is making a lifestyle choice to use a street worker they are not going to stop just like that.”

However, Charlie Docherty, chairman of the Central Holiday Area PACT (Police and Community Together) meeting, who runs The Astoria Hotel on Hull Road and is on the action plan working group, said: “A softly, softly approach is fine, but if it does not work and these workers do not accept the help offered maybe a tougher approach is needed.

“Otherwise, what is the incentive for them to get off the street?”.

Rev Alan Byrom, of Christ Church with All Saints on Palatine Road says both he and members of the congregation had been propositioned by women who would often sit on the church wall. It first came to my notice about three years ago and we had a meeting about it in the church,” he says.

“There was a bit of a police push and it ceased to be a problem for a while but there are now quite a few ladies lingering and flaunting about again.

“I’ve been mildly propositioned a couple of times and some of the congregation have been approached, usually after dark but not always.

“They sit on the wall watching out for cars and very occasionally people have been observed going behind the church. One member of the congregation told me they had come across condoms and cans and syringes have also been found. The council has agreed to pay for a gate, which should solve the problem and we’re waiting to hear when it will be installed.

“I do think prostitution is driven by the need for money to fund addictions so I’m wholeheartedly behind the police’s approach because they are trying to get to the root of the problem.”

Hotelier Colin Redding said: “They are a lot more brazen now.

“I caught two people in the act in a back alley at the back of my property - although it has been gated off now - and I’ve been approached three times by girls, even at 4pm in the afternoon.

“The problem has got worse.”

Colin, who has run his guest house on Reads Avenue for eight years with his partner Julie, says he believes the best solution would be to open a legalised brothel.

“I think more patrols are needed but to be honest I reckon there should be a legalised brothel so it is not on the streets and children do not see it,” he says.

“I know of one hotelier who took on a single girl for a week and found she was prostituting out of the room.

“It needs to be placed somewhere where it does not affect other people, because it does not create a good image when people arrive in Blackpool.”

Problem

Mr Redding says a broader problem with crime had also affected his trade, forcing him to open only at weekends and to take on work as an HGV driver.

“I had a guest who had been coming here for six weeks every year for eight years who was asked for money by someone she thought was a drug dealer,” he explains. “Now I’ve lost her custom.

“Two girls attempted to mug another man who was staying here.”

Another local hotelier, who did not wish to be named, adds: “I thought we had got on top of the problem but there seems to have been an influx of girls into the area over the past few months.

“I’d say their age range is from 16 or 17 to mid 20s. I don’t know where they are coming from but they are blatantly waving at traffic going past and approaching any guy who walks down the street.

“It’s a big concern for us hoteliers because it is scaring tourists away and killing trade.

“You hear the council saying they are trying to make Blackpool family friendly but I’ve had families actually saying to me they are not coming back because of this.

“Nine out of ten of our guests are being approached by these girls and it does not go down well.

“I don’t know what the answer is. Moving them on just makes it someone else’s problem.

“We always say these girls are breaking the law, so why can’t they be arrested?

“But if they are taken to court and fined where are they going to get the money from to pay it? It’s a vicious cycle.”

A hotel watch scheme is being put together to help tackle the issue through the new multi-agency Talbot Prostitution Action Plan, spearheaded by police, which also aims to address the reasons why women are turning to prostitution.

Talbot ward councillor, Mark Smith, says a number of local businesses and residents have raised concerns about the issue.

“Working with the police a detailed action plan has been developed which aims to deal with reasons behind the problem and also improve the situation for the residents and business within the area,” he says.

“Through the area forum, funding has been made available for signage and CCTV which we hope will act as a deterrent.”

Ten signs have gone up around Central Drive advising that CCTV is in operation. The mobile cameras issues including anti-social behaviour, drinking and flytipping, as well as street work.

Coun Smith adds that the action plan’s focus on prevention is welcome.

“If you go hardline and just arrest everybody that just causes more problems in other ways,” he says.

“Prostitution can be related to issues around alcohol, drugs and other crime. Some people might turn to prostitution to raise money for drugs for instance, so if you can remove that issue, you can resolve a barrel-full of other things.”

Insp James Martin, added: “There are deep-rooted problems that we need to start addressing and this action plan is about doing this is a staged way.

“You could put 20 officers into the area for a week and you wouldn’t see any prostitution but the workers will move somewhere else and eventually come back.

“You need to look at the location and the infrastructure - CCTV, alley gating, shelters, disused properties and lighting.

“Are the workers sheltering under bus stops and if so, would they still be in the area if the stops were removed?

“We’ve walked around these areas with members of the community, hoteliers and the council looking for weak spots and we are taking action on the back of that.”

But he adds that the only long-term solution is to tackle the causes of prostitution.

“I believe drugs and alcohol are the big reasons although other people might be homeless and need money for food,” he says.

“We want to identify these people and signpost them to the right agencies. The pathways are there but we want to tie them into this strategy.

When we come across a sex worker on the streets we can refer them to Horizon, which has pre-booked appointment slots.

Lifestyle

“Then, they might be able to break free from what they are doing because I don’t think it is a voluntary lifestyle choice.”

Kath Talboys is chief executive of the Renaissance project, part of Horizon on Dickson Road, which helps sex workers in Blackpool through the charity Drugline Lancashire.

Since the summer, street workers referred to Renaissance have attended appointments at Blackpool Women’s Centre on Church Street and receive support to deal with the problems which have driven them to prostitution.

The help lasts as long as is needed, and there were around 200 one-to-one contact meetings in 2013/14 - some involving the same women.

“A lot of them have a history of alcohol abuse and use of drugs like heroin so we look at those needs and try to get them into treatment as well as making sure they are not harming the area, which is a tourist town,” says Kath.

“They might not feel motivated to get help so it is about taking the stigma away and winning hearts and minds.

“We have a few more street workers now than when we did some research in 2006 but we are not looking at hundreds.

“It’s a combination of women who have faced challenges all their lives and more people needing help because of the decline in the economy.

“For those people it is about earning money because Blackpool has got its challenges with unemployment.

“For others it is about getting a roof over their heads.

“We have had some success in supporting people to exit sex work and get into employment but you have to do it through small steps because it is a huge lifestyle change.

“We do not want to see vulnerable people causing a disturbance, affecting people’s businesses and upsetting the town’s focus on tourism - but these street workers are Blackpool women,” she says.

“So it is also about meeting their needs around things like substance abuse and the risks they face of abuse and attack, before re-engaging them to have the chance to live a more conventional life.

“The plan is a win-win situation for Blackpool.”