Mariana Popa - a year on: Kerb-crawlers being targeted to stop Ilford Lane prostitution

Police were called to the scene in Ilford Lane at 12.15am this morning

Police were called to the scene in Ilford Lane at 12.15am this morning - Credit: Archant

The stabbing to death of prostitute Mariana Popa in Ilford Lane shone a harsh spotlight on the now notorious road – dubbed east London’s red light district.

Murdered Mariana Popa

Murdered Mariana Popa - Credit: Archant

Just after midnight on October 29 last year the pregnant 24-year-old woman staggered into Chicken & Pizza 4U after Farooq Shah thrust a knife into her chest.

Shah was later sentenced to a minimum of 28 years for the murder, but never revealed a reason for killing Mariana, a Romanian national.

Almost a year on from the attack, the police and Redbridge Council are continuing to work tirelessly to stop prostitution on the road.

Just six months before Mariana’s murder, the partnership diverted their efforts away from targeting prostitutes, and instead began pinpointing their customers – the male kerb crawlers who drive up to five miles to pay for sex.

Councillor Russ Hatfull outside Ilford Police station where he is attending a briefing about prostit

Councillor Russ Hatfull outside Ilford Police station where he is attending a briefing about prostitutes in the area one year on from Mariana Popa's murder (photo: Arnaud Stephenson) - Credit: photo: Arnaud Stephenson

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Ch Insp John Fish, who grew up in nearby Norman Road, does not believe an escalation in prostitution activity in the Ilford Lane can be linked to Mariana’s murder.

He does, though, feel that if the area was not a well-known “hot spot” for prostitutes, Mariana would not have decided to work there after moving here from Italy.

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It was a decision which ultimately led to her death.

“If the public sex environment did not exist, Mariana Popa would never have come to Redbridge,” he says.

Chief Inspector John Fish

Chief Inspector John Fish - Credit: Archant

“We don’t know what the motive was for that murder – what we do know is that she was standing on that street corner as a prostitute, after being warned by the police not to be there.”

Mr Fish says he does not want a repeat of the murder – not in Ilford Lane nor any other road in London.

“People do not understand the extent of the problem down Ilford Lane,” he says.

“The enforcement against women is now a tiny percentage of the police operations on the road.”

Mr Fish is keen, in his words, to “collapse the market place”. “The women would not be there if the men were not there to pay the money out,” he said.

Thirteen arrests were made on one weekend earlier this month in relation to kerb crawling – 50 since Mariana’s murder – while 140 arrests have been made in total, including those for kerb-crawling, in the past year.

Cllr Ross Hatfull, the cabinet member for community safety and enforcement, said: “We want to send a message out there that if you go looking for sex down Ilford Lane you run a very high risk of getting caught either by the police or by CCTV.

“You might not know if you are being filmed, but you will be recognised by Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR). The next thing you know you will get a letter or a knock on the door to come to the police station.”

Cllr Hatfull and Mr Fish agree the previous tactic of targeting the prostitutes was successful, but only to a degree.

“It had been successful, but it was limited success,” said Mr Fish. “It was not going to achieve the eradication of the problem.”

He has worked in neighbouring boroughs tackling prostitution, and has now been in Redbridge for nearly two years.

Does he believe Ilford Lane will ever be rid of prostitution?

“We can foresee an end to the problem. Prostitution is very difficult to eradicate but if men stop buying sex, then the women will go away.”

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