In the last two months, Westminster Council licensing inspectors have raided and closed down two illegal hostess bars, which lured men in under the false premise of adult entertainment then charged them exorbitant rates for soft drinks in the company of
hostesses. One of these hostess bars was also an illegal gambling club.
Clip joints, as they are informally known, have previously circumvented licensing legislation by not selling alcohol or offering adult entertainment, despite displaying
garish signs such as “sexy girls”.
But following extensive lobbying from Westminster City Council, the LLA Act 2007 (London Local Authorities Act) means the venues now need to apply for a sex establishment licence if they wish to continue
trading, putting them under the control of the local licensing authority for the first time.
Two years ago there were eight clip joints operating in Westminster but tough enforcement by Westminster Council and the Metropolitan Police for breaches
of planning and health and safety regulations has led to the closure of six.
A senior police officer claims that there are more fake prostitutes and drug dealers than real ones on the streets of Soho in London's West End. Soho was once known as a notorious area for its sex shops, but now while there are still some prostitutes who
work inside some premises, the ones on the streets are almost all fake operators.
Det Chief Supt Andy Rowell says that the area has been cleaned-up by the police, but now the danger comes from con artists targeting gullible foreign tourists and
The fake drug dealers pass off boot polish or liquorice as cannabis, and wax wrapped in foil as crack cocaine and aspirin pills, with the markings rubbed off on the side of a matchbox, as tablets.
Where the fake
prostitutes are concerned, around 15 of them work together by taking a deposit for a room then disappearing, or luring a punter into an alleyway where a male accomplice will relieve them of their cash.
Rowell said: Soho is now a safe
place to come and enjoy yourself - but please don't come looking for drugs and prostitutes. You will almost certainly get something you didn't expect.
A drive to clean up Soho and to diminish its red-light image has been unveiled by Westminster City Council.
Council leader Colin Barrow has pledged to shut down the last remaining unlicensed sex premises following the recent closure of 51 sex
shops and the complete eradication of clip joints.
Councillor Barrow said: The idea that the seedy side of Soho is a magnet for tourists and creative trade is a flawed one. It may well be a curiosity, but there is no compelling economic
argument for this.
This is not about sanitising the area ...BUT... simply making it fit for a modern capital city where people are more aware than ever of the true costs of prostitution and drugs to society.
Soho is losing its unique atmosphere because of crackdowns on vice and an influx of chain restaurants, according to historians.
BBC presenter Dan Cruickshank is leading calls for Westminster council and police to stop trying to sanitise
The council has announced a drive against drug dealers, street prostitutes and unlicensed sex shops, as well as drunken and anti-social behaviour, in an attempt to 'clean up' the area before the expected influx of visitors for the
A police operation this month led to 50 arrests. More than 60 pedicabs have been seized and some £500,000 of illegal pornography destroyed following 22 raids on unlicensed sex shops.
But historians and residents say
late-night revelry and all that goes with it are part the area's character. Cruickshank, who presented Around the World in 80 Treasures on BBC2, said: Soho is almost beyond recovery and I find it rather heartbreaking. Now it attracts chain
shops, chain bars and chain restaurants and is no longer unconventional or curious. If the drunk and disorderly are people who come from outside as somewhere to hang out it's not on. But equally, a sense of wildness and inventive roughness creates some
artistic individuals who do some interesting things.
Soho is still home to celebrated bars, clubs and restaurants, and is the hub of London's gay scene. Cruickshank said sex shops had long been part of the local scene.
Miserable Westminster Council is trying to hide Soho's colourful heritage after ordering a restaurant to remove neon signs harking back to its former glory as London's red light district.
The signs, which read peep show and adult video
, were installed outside the fashionable restaurant, La Bodega Negra, early last year as a homage to the area's history.
But after a nine-month fight with Westminster City Council, the restaurant, in Old Compton Street, has been issued
with a discontinuance notice to remove the signs, claiming they cause substantial injury to the area. The council noted that Soho is a conservation area.
Westminster council claims:
The continued display
of the neon advertisement is considered to constitute a substantial injury to the amenity of the area.
The restaurant argues that the signs, designed by Serge Becker, the creative director of La Esquina in New York and The Box in
London, are a work of art and have become a landmark in their own right. Restaurant owner Will Ricker vowed to fight council bosses by keeping the signs in place. He said:
They have completely failed to mention that it
was the centre of the capital's sex industry, which made Soho famous globally and a tourist attraction.
And now as it slowly changes away from that, we wanted to make a statement that paid homage to the cultural importance of that
epoch. Particularly as its remnants are being eradicated by landlords, the council and technology, the neons are a remnant of a vanishing, golden era that should be celebrated, not forgotten.
Over 25 sex workers' flats in Soho, Central London were raided by police last night (4 December). Police broke down doors, slapped closure notices on the doors of premises and threw women out onto the street. Some immigrant women were taken into
custody on the pretext that they may be victims of trafficking, despite their protestations that they were not being forced to work. Other women were given papers instructing them to appear in court today and tomorrow (5 and 6 December).
Mitchell from the English Collective of Prostitutes commented:
It is outrageous that the police are raiding premises where women are working together safely and collectively with friends. The police must know that some
women will end up working on the street as a result, where it is much more dangerous. Most of the women thrown out of premises are mothers and grandmothers who have now lost their livelihood.
Evictions and closure of the flats of sex
workers are opposed by many other local residents and businesses because they feel that if the Soho girls go the whole character of Soho will change. It is this unique, diverse and tolerant community -- immigrant, LGBTQ clubs, small independent
businesses, theatre --- which attracts many visitors from around the world. People fear that the evictions are aimed at making way for large scale development, like the one proposed in Walkers Court, which most residents are against.
A massive six-story development with an airport like lounge and heliport is being proposed at Walkers Court in the heart of Soho. The decision on this development is taking place
at Westminster Council planning committee on Tuesday 10 December .
A development of this kind will change the very character of the area, wreck the lively diverse community there and lead to the eviction of sex workers
from walk-up flats. Residents and small independent business will be particularly affected.
Possibly connected to this development, 200 police raided and closed 20 flats in Soho on the evening of 4 December. Both the
police and Westminster Council claim that the action was to save victims of trafficking. None of the women we are in touch are trafficked and they feel strongly that this is being used as an excuse to target them. Women are now fighting to defend their
rights to work in safety and support their families.
The raids, like the bedroom tax and benefit cap, are socially cleansing Soho for the super rich.
Please take action now:
Before Tuesday 10 December, write to the Head of the Planning Committee Robert Davis firstname.lastname@example.org with your objections.
Join us at the planning committee meeting on Tuesday 10
December 6.30pm at City Hall, 17th floor, 64 Victoria Street, SW1E 6PQ to demonstrate your objections.
Sign the petition to stop the eviction and prosecution of sex workers.
On the 4th December police raided 25 premises in Soho and evicted, detained and harassed sex workers. They kicked down doors, closed working flats, took money and personal items, and manhandled women in the street in front of the photographers and
news crews they invited to witness this violence and intimidation. The media presence included Sky news, BBC and the Evening Standard. It would seem that victims of sex work need to be publicly humiliated and shamed in the media in order to be
properly saved from their work.
The raids were supposedly undertaken in order to locate stolen goods and to tackle prostitution (despite the fact that selling sex is not actually a crime) and to tackle human
trafficking. A number of migrant sex workers, many of whom have lived in the UK for years, have - devastatingly - been conveyed to the UKBA detention centre at Heathrow; this, despite having reassured police that they had not been trafficked into the
country, and were working voluntarily. Other women were instructed to appear in court the next morning. The charges against them are not yet known.
The closure of working flats will mean that women have lost their peer support
network, and their regular clients who they know to be safe. They will also now be working in locations unknown to outreach and health services, and will be less likely to access services - or report crimes against them - for fear of being forcibly
detained or arrested as either a victim or a criminal. They will have to continue to work, but may now have to work alone or outdoors, exposing them to greater risk. Amy, a sex worker within SWOU noted:
talking about 'greater risk', people should know, and should see from these events, that those who are supposed to 'protect' us often pose the greatest risk to us. This is the case both directly and indirectly - directly, when the cops kick down our
doors, drag us onto the street, and facilitate our humiliation; indirectly, when they signal to those who might wish to target us, that we don't deserve the protection of the law, that we can't report. The cops make us targets twice over.
The lasting effect of the raids will be increased risk, fear, violence and instability for these women, and many others like them.
Elisa , a migrant sex worker, said:
This is all so frightening. This backlash is spreading across Europe. It is more and more clear to me - seeing the German debates now too - that it all is an attempt to silence and marginalise mostly migrant workers, specifically
women, because if sex work was decriminalised and our work made safer, migrant women would achieve a place in society that they are not desired to have. Migrant women in the sex industry have to be victimised, silent, invisible (though sensationalised
and exposed at the same time when it needs to be for propaganda, and to add that spice), and better stay at home.
Cari Mitchell from the English Collective of Prostitutes, said:
is outrageous that the police are raiding premises where women are working together safely and collectively with friends. The police must know that some women will end up working on the street as a result, where it is much more dangerous. Most of the
women thrown out of premises are mothers and grandmothers who have now lost their livelihood.
Nic, a sex worker in Soho, said:
I feel so frightened. This is on my doorstep. Will I
be next? That the police brought the press with them demonstrates so much why we need the only legal framework that reduces, rather than increases, police power over us. Who can look at these events and think the police are using their power
respectfully, appropriately, non-abusively? This is violence against women, that the mainstream women's movement turns it's head from. We need full decriminalisation, including of our clients and our workplaces, because that is THE ONLY legal context in
which we are not at the mercy of these abusive and traumatic policing tactics; where we are not at risk of being dragged out onto the street. Sex work is work - we're already in mainstream trade unions. This is so frightening - we need solidarity.
I well remember Soho from my time as a very poor student in London. The only way I could pay for my tuition was to go a couple of times a week
to (Jazz band, remember ?) Acker Bilk's Club in Greek Street, Soho. There were always 4-5 lads playing poker and somehow I always managed to win.
Researchers from the University of Kent and Middlesex University have said that Soho is under threat from gentrification and corporatisation that threatens to rob it of what makes it so special.
Their study explains how the area is being sanitised
with the number of licensed sex shops in the area declining from more than 50 to just 12. These are slowly being concentrated in just a small area and almost all such venues in Soho are now located within a small half-a-mile block.
The process of
gentrification in this area has further marginalised already vulnerable groups (including homeless populations and sex workers) and the sanitisation of the area means that many populations who have lived and worked in this area for generations will no
longer be able to part of the Soho community.