Sex workers still vulnerable 10 years after Ipswich murders

Siobhan Robbins, Sky News Correspondent

Ten years ago, 2 December 2006, the body of a 25-year-old woman was found in Ipswich.

Officers at the time had no idea that the discovery of Gemma Adams would be the start of the biggest investigation in Suffolk Police's history and would end in the capture of serial killer Steve Wright.

Wright would murder five women - Ms Adams, Tania Nicol, Anneli Alderton, Paula Clennell and Annette Nicholls - before he was caught and eventually given a life sentence.

All of his victims were sex workers based in Ipswich's busy red-light district, where Wright lived.

After the murders, authorities in the town vowed to eradicate street prostitution. The plan had two main strands: one aimed at getting the girls off the streets and off drugs, the other targeting the men who paid them.

Now retired, Alan Caton was the Detective Superintendent that led the crackdown on kerb crawling.

Ten years on he told Sky News it's been an "overwhelming success".

"Since 2008 there have been no reports of women working on the streets, or no reports of men arrested for kerb crawling offences."

A quick drive around the old red-light district and certainly things looked different to 2006; gone were the obvious gangs of girls selling sex.

But 'Donna', a former prostitute who knew Wright and his victims, told me street prostitutes were still working in Ipswich.

Referring to Portman Road, which was the "heart" of the red-light district, she said: "From a girl who I spoke to, who worked only last night, this is where she worked."

If 'Donna' was right then sex workers had only moved a few yards up the road from where the women worked in 2006.

We returned to the red-light district for a second night and saw a woman waiting on the corner. She would later approach our car three times. We also saw evidence of the kerb crawling 'Donna' had witnessed.

In a statement, Detective Superintendent David Cutler, head of Suffolk Police's Protecting Vulnerable People Directorate, said the force was dedicated to helping women involved.

He added: "A great deal of excellent work was undertaken by a range of agencies to address this issue following the murders in 2006 and we remain committed to working with our partners to appropriately deal with any reports or signs of prostitution on the streets of Suffolk."

Without doubt, today there are fewer prostitutes on the town's streets but a quick look online shows many have simply moved to selling sex from flats instead.

Now rather than dozens, the internet allows hundreds of women to advertise. While selling sex isn't illegal, if girls work in pairs for safety it is classed as a brothel, so they are breaking the law. 

A total of 152 UK sex workers have been murdered since 1990. According to the charity National Ugly Mugs, 85% of street prostitutes have experienced violence and only 25% of victims are willing to report crimes to the police.

A decade after five women were murdered in Suffolk, things have changed; new police guideline say prostitutes should be protected not prosecuted.

But in reality, the fear of arrest means the majority still don't report violent attacks or rape to the police, leaving them vulnerable to predators, like Wright, in the future.

:: Watch a special report on 10 years since the Ipswich murders on Sky News at 4.30pm and 6.30pm.