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'We shouldn't have to be here': police and councils pledge to combat Ilford Lane sex trade

PUBLISHED: 18:16 10 May 2019 | UPDATED: 18:19 10 May 2019

MP's Mike Gapes and Margaret Hodge join senior police and council officials to discuss the problems of prostitution along Ilford Lane.

MP's Mike Gapes and Margaret Hodge join senior police and council officials to discuss the problems of prostitution along Ilford Lane.

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A raft of fresh measures to tackle prostitution in Ilford Lane have been announced at a heated public meeting.

Dame Margaret Hodge MP addresses the assembled crowd at Al Madina Mosque. Picture: Ken MearsDame Margaret Hodge MP addresses the assembled crowd at Al Madina Mosque. Picture: Ken Mears

Dozens of residents as well as local councillors, council officers and the Metropolitan Police attended a street meeting on Friday with Barking MP Dame Margaret Hodge and Ilford South MP Mike Gapes to discuss the long-standing issue.

For years Ilford Lane has been infamous for kerb-crawling and on-street prostitution and was subject to a 10-week crackdown by police in 2017.

Since February a fresh wave of complaints from residents have been recorded by authorities, with all those present agreeing the problem had never truly gone away.

Tempers flared up several times during the meeting at Al Madina Mosque in Victoria Road, with Mrs Hodge at one point urging attendees to "turn the temperature down".

Chief Inspector Lisa Butterfield. Picture: Ken MearsChief Inspector Lisa Butterfield. Picture: Ken Mears

She said: "We shouldn't have had to be here today. I'm really sorry. The police did a brilliant job two years ago so it's very worrying that we have had to come back."

Between 2017 and April this year police have issued 68 prostitute cautions to sex workers in Ilford Lane.

And since a public spaces protection order (PSPO) was introduced last year, 114 fines have also been issued to people seeking to buy sex in the borough.

Chief Inspector Lisa Butterfield, part of the Met's safer neighbourhoods team in Barking and Dagenham, said: "This is a long-term problem. What we learned from 2017 is that we can't have a quick fix and walk away, because it doesn't get rid of it; it will come back.

Ilford Lane has been called the Ilford Lane has been called the "epicentre" of street prostitution in London. Picture: Ellena Cruse

"There are issues around trafficking and slavery. We ask the girls if they have been exploited or trafficked into the country. But if they aren't talking to us they leave us with nothing else than to deal with it under the law."

Five dedicated police officers, some uniformed and some in plain clothes, are now set to patrol in Ilford Lane from 9am to 3am every night of the week.

A supplementary team of 10 officers will also be spread across other known hotspots in the area, with the possibility of funding being secured later for more.

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Redbridge Council leader Jas Athwal told attendees: "The police do a fantastic job but there are not enough of them.

"Today I have written to Sadiq [Khan, Mayor of London] asking to trial the whole of Ilford Lane as a zero tolerance area, if we can get enough officers deployed to deal with that."

Officers from Barking and Dagenham and Redbridge Councils have been tasked with identifying new locations where CCTV, lighting or fencing might help to "design out" some of the issues.

At the same time, police also said there would be a renewed focus on the organised gangs running prostitutes on Ilford Lane and elsewhere.

Chief Inspector Kevin Weeden said: "Some of the girls want to be there, but others are being forced. There are people behind them and if we just target the girls they will bring in more."

Many of those at the meeting were local parents fed up with explaining the situation to their children. Restaurant owner Adam Ali, 34, said: "I shouldn't have to come back from an 18-hour shift and take my six-year-old daughter out for an ice cream to have her ask, 'Daddy, what are they doing in that car?'.

"This problem has been going on for years. Until it gets tackled properly with consistency and due diligence it's not going to make a difference to our community."

Linda Wray, 47, chair of the Loxford Safer Neighbourhood Ward Panel, said: "This problem has affected me on quite a few occasions because I do shift work. I come home on Ilford Lane sometimes the cars are driving really slowly looking out to see if you are a 'working' girl.

"One day I counted 17 prostitutes and that's not even within a quarter of a mile. In the mornings, I have the condoms on my road.

"I feel the police and the council haven't taken this issue seriously enough. I'd say the police tactics need to change, and also they need to be targeting the right people."

Speaking after the close, Mrs Hodge told this newspaper that she supported a recent campaign by the fledgling Clean Up Ilford Lane group to publicly "name and shame" kerb-crawlers.

She said: "It's unacceptable for any community to have to be the victims of this sort of activity. The moment the police presence is cut back, they all come back.

"If there are people who are being trafficked or are victims of modern slavery, I don't want to punish them - I want to support them. That sometimes is frustrating to local residents. I think you need both."

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