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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 11 February, 2003, 06:34 GMT
Prostitutes fight council evictions
Sex shop sign
Prostitutes in Soho feel they are being victimised
A public inquiry into evictions of prostitutes from a famous red-light area of central London began on Tuesday.

More than 10,000 local businesses and residents have signed a petition outlining that they do not object to the women working in Soho.

And sex workers were joined by businessmen and a cleric on Monday calling for prostitutes to be given support.

The inquiry into the compulsory purchase by Westminster City Council of a property in Peter Street, Soho, which is used by eight prostitutes, will be held in Pimlico, south London.

If these women get pushed out it ironically increases the chance that they become workers on the street and therefore become a greater problem to the local community

The Rev Clare Herbert

The council has issued 10 Compulsory Purchase Orders on properties used by prostitutes in the area.

It describes the move as a last resort to make sure the residential properties were used properly in an area where there was huge demand for housing.

Soho is one of the longest established red-light areas in London and is thought of within the industry as one of the safest places for prostitutes to work.

Cari Mitchell, from the English Collective of Prostitutes, spoke of Elizabeth Valad, the prostitute who was ordered out of a Soho flat by Westminster council and was found killed in Camden, north London, last month.

Elizabeth Valad
Prostitute Elizabeth Valad was killed

She said: "If men know they will get away with violence they will attack women.

"Here we support each other, we know where each other are and they can look out of the window and call for help, which is vital when there is no police protection."

More than 10,000 local businesses and residents have signed a petition outlining that they do not object to the women working in Soho.

The Rev Clare Herbert, rector at St Anne's church in Soho said: "A closed house with residents, such as Peter Street, poses no problems for us at all.

"If these women at Peter Street get pushed out it ironically increases the chance that they become workers on the street and therefore become a greater problem to the local community."

Frances Mapstone, chief housing officer for Westminster City Council, said: "We are committed to improving our residents' quality of life and ensuring that properties in high demand for housing are brought into proper use.

"The action we are taking is part of a wider campaign to improve the West End."

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BBC London's Sarah Harris
"The council says the building's unsafe but sex workers say that is just an excuse for having them moved on."

Click here to go to BBC London Online
See also:

07 Feb 03 | Scotland
17 Jan 03 | England
12 Dec 02 | England
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