The Wolverhampton Wanderers
THIS IS the story of Belinda and her friend of many years standing, Wendy, who live nearby one another in Wolverhampton.
Wendy, now 41, was a sex worker. As such, studies show she was vulnerable to potential assaults and stigma once the word gets out in her local community.
Happily, however, she had Belinda. Neither were too well off and together, they rented a flat well away from Wolverhampton, in Worcester, where Wendy could do incalls. Between December, 2007 and last May, the pair would commute daily to Worcester, where Wendy would ply her trade with the security of knowing Belinda was in an adjoining room should things go awry. Besides acting as security, Belinda took calls from customers and banked the takings, which were shared between the two of them. Few, if any, knew of this arrangement back in Wolverhampton.
Business was brisk on occasions at the ground floor flat in Malvern Road, St Johns, where the pair had up to 10 satisfied clients a day, each paying up to £80. Wendy’s “massage” service was advertised in a local magazine.
Sadly, however, the neighbours – or at least some of them – were not amused, and contacts were established with West Mercia Police.
It was not long before the flat, unbeknown to Belinda and Wendy, was monitored by a network of spy cameras to establish clients’ comings and goings. There were two clients present when police finally pounced on May 29.
It has taken more than nine months for the case to come to court, which it finally did this week.
The pair were charged with keeping a brothel and Belinda was charged with controlling a prostitute for gain.
Both denied the brothel charge and were found not guilty – premises do not become brothels unless at least two sex workers are involved. But Belinda admitted the controlling charge and was fined £500 with £500 costs. She has a month to declare her assets, from which any profit she made from her venture will be seized and dispersed under the Proceeds of Crime Act to, among others, West Mercia Police, to enable them to continue to live off immoral (as they’re stolen) earnings.
Now the case of Belinda and Wendy is not a particularly sensational one. It is fairly run of the mill, which is, or should be, a matter of great concern.
Notice that Wendy, the sex worker herself, walks off scot-free. It is the person who provides her security who is penalised, even though this is a perfectly happy non-coercive relationship.
Under the new Policing and Crime Bill, as Wendy has been pronounced ‘controlled for gain’ , both the clients found on the premises during the raid and any identified from CCTV coverage and traced would face fines of up to £1,000 – NOT because they had hired Wendy – but because of Belinda’s involvement.
The Government is in a state of denial that cases such as that of Belinda and Wendy exist. But the fact is that it provided no definition of ‘controlling’ in ‘controlling for gain’ in the 2003 Sexual Offences Act, thus the courts make of it what they will.
Witness the statements of Home Office minister Alan Campbell to the Commons scrutiny committee:
…we do not believe that a prostitute who employs a receptionist to arrange her appointments will be considered controlled for gain, as some have suggested, nor do we consider that a prostitute who arranges for a security guard to protect her will be controlled for gain. That does not accord with the ordinary meaning of “controlled”.….the measure is not directed at the receptionist, the maid, the security person, or any other woman working with another prostitute, where they are working together for reasons of safety. It is difficult to envisage a situation where a madam…would fall under the definition of “controlled for gain” that this offence would be based upon. If we are talking about someone who arranges the appointments, shares the venue, ensures that the prostitutes are safe—the things that we are talking about that we are confident are not covered by this offence—we believe that the definition “controlled for gain” would not extend to include….”
Ah, but it does, doesn’t it? The Government’s confidence is clearly misplaced, as a glance at any one of a large number of court cases would show. We blame their teachers.
Mr Campbell, to do him justice, went away from that committee meeting with a pledge to look into the situation. That was some weeks ago, and came on top of a Bar Council offer to look at the wording of “controlled for gain.” But needless to say, the wording of the Bill remains unchanged.
Meanwhile, however, our courts are still no closer to a definition of controlling which even vaguely resembles what the Government continues to proclaim it to mean.
There’s not much flying on this – just the safety of some 80,000 UK women and the potential criminalisation of about a tenth of the UK male population, so we really can’t expect Parliament to spend much time on it, much less get it right…