‘Where are all the girls?’: Police operation reducing number of prostitutes on Ilford Lane
- Credit: Archant
“Where are all the girls” were the words on everyone’s lips along Ilford Lane on Friday night. The police, probably the punters and even the prostitutes.
After spending the night on patrol with officers on a new operation tackling prostitution in the area, we only encountered two girls working.
The pair ended up quizzing the police as to where other sex workers were, along a road infamous for the oldest profession in the world.
“When I first came down I was shocked,” Pc Hass Memish tells me. Pc Memish was the dedicated ward officer in Becontree, before joining the Ilford Lane operation.
He continued: “We don’t have this kind of problem in my area, so when I started, like I said, I was shocked. There were two or three girls on every corner. Between 20 and 30.”
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Officers launched the new drive in June, after a spike in the number of offences following the general election. Residents complained of girls out all night, used condoms being thrown into their gardens and people having sex in residential streets.
But the new operation, which has used Romanian detectives, the charity Refuge and dispersal orders to ban curbcrawlers, appears to be working.
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As we drive out of Ilford Police Station at 9.15pm Pc Memish explains to me he thinks it’s “having an impact”.
“There are girls that are not coming back, and if they do we give them a community protection notice (CPN) and then if that does not work we arrest them. That is really a last resort.
“We’re now only seeing two or three girls out on the streets over the course of a night.”
The police are also offering routes out of prostitution with the charity refuge, and while some girls have said they are interested on the street, none have followed up the calls.
Also in the car is Pc Jovita Kazakauskaite, who previously covered Seven Kings and Mayfield wards.
“I’ve worked on patrols down Ilford Lane before,” she said.
“I’ve seen the difference between then and now, what we are doing and the results we are getting,” she says.
At 9.55pm we pull up beside two girls at the junction with Khartoum Road.
The officers start chatting to the women casually and they don’t appear worried or scared by the police. “They used to run off everytime they saw a police car, but now we have a good rapport with them,” Pc Kazakauskaite tells me afterwards.
At the scene Pc Memish explains they’ve seen one of the girls before, however the other has just arrived in London after working in Manchester.
He runs the girls’ names, dates of birth and details through a database and quickly grabs his phone – we may have a match.
“One of the names has come up on our trafficking index, so I’m just calling the specialist unit to get more questions to ask her,” he says. Every time officers talk to the girls along Ilford Lane, they always check their names to see if they may have been trafficked, wanted elsewhere or in danger.
In this case a tattoo and the ages don’t match with the description on Pc Memish’s tablet.
The officers issue a warning to the new girl and a CPN to the other. As we drive away we see the pair waiting at the bus stop.
After patrolling the streets off Ilford Lane, we drive down to the junction with Albert Road.
The officers show me a bush, and behind the leaves the ground is littered with condoms and a lumpy mattress is rolled up amongst some leaves.
“A patrol caught a punter with a girl the other night so we always check this area,” Pc Memish says.
Next we check that the sex workers we spoke to earlier are gone and the rest of the corners are free.
“This is how we want it, quiet streets,” Pc Memish says.
The officers chat to a few men drinking in the street and help out a homeless woman, but other than that Ilford Lane is remarkably tranquil.
The pair apologise for a “boring” shift, but I say don’t worry – the residents will be pleased the operation is working.