Prostitute murders prompt calls for law change

The Liberal Democrats have called for a “wholesale review” of Britain’s prostitution laws, amid fears that a serial killer is targeting sex workers in Ipswich.

Leader Menzies Campbell said the spate of prostitute murders in Suffolk highlighted the plight of many women on drugs or facing poverty who were forced on to the street, and must be addressed.

His party wants to decriminalise prostitution and allow privately operated brothels to operate legally, provided they are properly regulated. The Lib Dems argue this would allow women forced into prostitution to practice it safely.

In a debate in the Commons this lunchtime, Tony Blair replied that the issue was “difficult” and said that although the murders may result in changes in policy, it must be considered at a later date.

The naked bodies of five women have been found in and around Ipswich in the past fortnight, three of whom have been identified as sex workers. The other two, found yesterday, are expected to be identified as two missing prostitutes later today.

Suffolk police have drafted in help from other police forces to deal with the investigation, which they have described as unprecedented, and prostitutes in the area are being warned to stay off the streets until the killer or killers are caught.

Speaking during prime minister’s questions today, Mr Blair said he would do everything he could to support the police in dealing with “the horror of this situation” and sent his sympathy to the local community and the families of the dead girls.

Conservative leader David Cameron agreed with the prime minister, adding: “We all want this monster to be caught and to be locked up.”

Sir Menzies said he was “shocked by the disturbing events” but stressed that they highlighted the “link between poverty, prostitution and drug abuse” and this must be addressed by holding a “wholesale review of the law in this area”.

The government must ensure that “we do everything in our power, so far as possible, to ensure women’s safety”, he said.

The Home Office carried out a review into prostitution laws last year, and in its report in January proposed that two prostitutes be able to work together in a brothel for their own safety. However, nothing has yet come of the plans.

Today, Mr Blair said there was “obviously a link” between poverty, drugs and the sex trade, and accepted that “there may well be lessons that we have to learn as a result of the terrible events of the past few weeks”.

But he warned: “I think those lessons are best learnt in a considered and not reflex way. So, at the moment I think our priority has got to be, to find the person responsible, to give our full support to the police.

“I think it is wise for us to leave to a latter time a more considered, potentially policy, response to the issues that have arisen.”