Voice of Holbeck call for exit strategy from Managed Approach

About 40 residents attended a meeting to discuss the end of the Managed Approach to street sex work in Holbeck on Wednesday evening (21 July 2021).

The ‘zone’ element of the Managed Approach was suspended in March 2020 due to the Covid pandemic and as we have reported, a decision has been taken by Leeds City Council and Safer Leeds not to reinstate it. Support to the community from the Council’s cleansing team, dedicated policing team and to sex workers from Basis Yorkshire and the Joanna Project all remain in place.

The meeting was organised by The Voice of Holbeck group and much of the meeting was taken up with rehearsing the group’s criticisms of the Independent Review commissioned by Leeds City Council, which published its report a year ago.

The group called for a number of measures to be introduced now the Managed Approach has ended including:

  • A PSPO (Public Spaces Protection Order) to give Police greater powers to stop and fine kerb crawlers
  • This to be backed by signs on lampposts and a national communications campaign to dissuade men from coming to Holbeck to buy sex
  • Police to require kerb crawlers to attend Elland Road police station the following day with car documents
  • Use of ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) cameras to identify kerb crawlers remotely
  • Training and information to men who work in the area including on building sites to discourage them from buying sex

Inspector Lucy Leadbeater, who heads up the South Leeds Community Policing Team explained to the meeting that Holbeck has the largest Policing resource in the country dedicated to street sex work. She said the four police officers do not get redeployed to other duties such as public order events, but when you take account of shift patterns, holidays, etc they cannot provide 24/7 cover. Gaps are filled by PCSOs who are occasionally redeployed. This means that when you call the dedicated phone number to report incidents (07534 309568), known locally as the “bat phone”, you may not get an instant response. Officers maybe interviewing a woman who has suffered a crime, or processing a kerb crawler for example.

She also defended her officers who have been seen eating or drinking in the community, explaining that all officers are encouraged to take their meal breaks in the community rather than back at the police station. This enables them to pick up informal intelligence and provide reassurance.

Speaking to Councillor Angela Gabriel after the meeting she explained that much of what The Voice of Holbeck was calling for was already being developed or delivered.

“Leeds City Council and the police are working on an PSPO for Holbeck, but this is not a quick fix, there’s an enormous amount of work needed to prepare an application. But we understand why residents feel it is taking too long. However, the PSPO would focus on on-street drinking in a bid to improve the sense of safety for residents.

“Kerb crawlers are already required to visit the police station if caught. We don’t need ANPR cameras because the CCTV cameras the Council installed last year can easily pick out number plates. We are also rolling out training to men who work in the area.”

Cllr Gabriel went on to explain that the women still working in the area are known to Safer Leeds and their partner agencies. Each woman has a key worker and a care plan, with the aim of helping then exit sex work.

“There is a weekly tasking meeting between various partners, including the police, Forward Leeds (drug rehabilitation) Basis, Joanna and others who ‘case manage’ each woman to help them exit prostitution. This high support for women is essential if we are to have any success reducing the number of on-street sex workers in the area” she added.

The meeting also heard from Natasha Wyer a local resident and ex-addict who has set up a charity to help women exit prostitution by providing a 12 month residential rehabilitation programme, out of the area.