The small West Yorkshire community of Holbeck — population 5,505 at the last census — lies just a mile or so south of the booming financial district of Leeds, one of the richest cities in the north.
At first sight, it seems that the area is really thriving — Holbeck appears to be a desirable place in which to raise a family and buy a home.
Indeed, such is the area’s appeal that one national newspaper has rated Holbeck one of the best and most inexpensive places in the country for young families to live.
‘The biggest draw is the rows of affordable terrace houses from £85,000,’ the paper gushed, alongside an upbeat account of a new community theatre group ‘upping the creative ante’ and a swanky new gym offering top-notch equipment and a ‘high-protein macro-based meal service’.
Yet for some inexplicable reason, the paper managed to overlook some of Holbeck’s more dubious features. Among these is a seemingly endless supply of half-dressed prostitutes, who now operate in broad daylight, just a few hundred yards from the local park and close to a primary school.
Among these is a seemingly endless supply of half-dressed prostitutes, who now operate in broad daylight, just a few hundred yards from the local park and close to a primary school
They — or rather the violent pimps and drug dealers who control them — have turned Holbeck, once a respectable inner-city district, into an area blighted by vice
And now, its residents are fighting back, with one community Facebook group posting pictures of kerb crawlers and their car registration numbers
They — or rather the violent pimps and drug dealers who control them — have turned Holbeck, once a respectable inner-city district, into an area blighted by vice.
And now, its residents are fighting back, with one community Facebook group posting pictures of kerb crawlers and their car registration numbers.
As the Mail found this week when we travelled into the city to report on the backlash, the area has become a magnet for those seeking casual, commercial sex.
The prostitutes tend to congregate around two specific local businesses, a small convenience store called Kasa — selling mainly Eastern European products — and a betting shop, popular with retirees, which is part of the national Betfred chain.
Last Monday at about 10.30am we witnessed a prostitute dressed in a see-through bra and trousers touting for business just around the corner from the shop.
A shiny black Audi drove up — the kerb crawlers, who are often surprisingly well-off, tend to favour upmarket European cars — and she jumped into the front passenger seat.
Then another girl, wearing only a denim shirt and a pair of knickers, emerged from a side street to take over her pitch.
About 20 minutes later, as I was parking my car outside the local community centre, the first prostitute returned, knocked on the passenger window and offered me ‘business’ for £20 or £30.
The ‘business’ she referred to was glaringly obvious. ‘We can have a bunk-up round the back or we can go to my place, I’ve got my own house,’ she said.
It was a dispiriting, shocking scene. A woman in her late teens or early 20s — but actually looking much older and clearly on drugs — selling her body in an area where respectable young mums of about the same age were returning home after the school run, some of them pushing toddlers in buggies.
Later that morning the Mail spotted the same girl engaged in a violent street fight with another woman. The first girl was crying uncontrollably while the second grabbed her, accusing her of ‘robbing my house’.
I managed to alert the police to the episode before it turned nasty. Thankfully — and in another unfortunate sign for Holbeck — a five-strong squad of police including forensic officers happened to be just 100 yards away, raiding a cannabis farm set up in one of the terraced houses on Recreation Grove, another strip popular with sex workers.
The sergeant in charge of the raid put down the huge haul of cannabis plants that he was removing from the house and had a quiet word with the women who were sent on their way. A local man was subsequently charged with production of cannabis and dishonestly using electricity.
One neighbour told the Mail that the girls use a nearby phone box for sex with clients. Rather incongruously, the phone box is decorated with a huge picture of the family-friendly comedian Michael McIntyre, advertising his world tour.
Another neighbour, who lives on Recreation Grove, told us that there were so many sex workers and pimps on the streets that she is now too afraid to go out at night.
As we spoke, a large SUV with blacked-out windows drove past at speed: it was not the police, and neighbours told me it was almost certainly a pimp.
Many local people feel that sex workers in Holbeck have become much more visible since the city council abandoned an experimental scheme that decriminalised prostitution in a section of Holbeck known as the ‘Managed Approach’ zone.
The idea was to restrict prostitutes to a specific area of an industrial estate where nobody lives.
Introduced in 2014, the scheme, on which the council spent £200,000, was highly controversial. It was regarded as Britain’s first legalised red-light district — punters and prostitutes were effectively given an amnesty if they conducted their ‘business’ within the zone after dark.
As the Mail found this week when we travelled into the city to report on the backlash, the area has become a magnet for those seeking casual, commercial sex
Last Monday at about 10.30am we witnessed a prostitute dressed in a see-through bra and trousers touting for business just around the corner from the shop
The scheme was intended to make life safer for some of the city’s most vulnerable women but many people thought it was ill-conceived.
One resident told the Mail that the scheme was an example of the council’s ‘woolly-minded and woke thinking’. Many people were deeply opposed to the plan, insisting any amnesty would encourage prostitutes to come into the area for business. And they say that this is precisely what happened.
Far worse, though, the locals claim, is that since the scheme has been abandoned, the sex workers have simply moved off the Managed Approach zone on to residential streets. It is not illegal to pay for sex in the UK, but kerb crawling is a crime.
Many women’s groups have argued that, whether they are kerb crawling or not, the punters should be arrested and charged and that Britain should adopt the so-called Nordic model which offers zero tolerance to those who try to buy sex on the streets.
One community group, Save Our Eyes, which has been campaigning against the sex industry’s presence in Holbeck for several years, has set up a Facebook page that controversially ‘names and shames’ persistent kerb crawlers.
They publish their mugshots and car registration numbers. The most prolific offenders receive the ‘Punter of the Week’ tag.
One tongue-in-cheek post said ‘it’s the hottest prize in Leeds and can be collected from reception at Elland Road police station’.
‘We had no choice,’ a spokeswoman for the local group told the Mail. ‘The council and the police were doing nothing. We have sympathy for the women, many of whom are victims of terrible exploitation and abuse.
‘But it’s the clients — the punters — who are principally causing the problem. It has got out of hand and we need to take some action.’
‘These men seem to be well-off, businessman-types,’ said retired transport executive Brian Kitchen, who lives nearby.
‘I know for a fact that many of them are supposedly happily married family men with wives and children at home. They get some sort of adrenaline rush out of the danger of buying sex from a prostitute.’
Neither Leeds City Council nor West Yorkshire Police would comment to the Mail about the naming-and-shaming initiative.
A spokeswoman for the council told the Mail that no one was available to talk to us and that councillors were precluded from being interviewed so close to the local elections next month.
When the Mail first visited Holbeck some years ago to report on the scheme, we did not find any sex workers in the residential streets, although there was some evidence of the detritus of sex and drugs — such as condoms and needles — near the park and in the local cemetery.
Now, however, it is impossible for many local women to walk in the streets around the park without being propositioned.
Dave Kelly has lived in Holbeck for 31 years, much of his working life. He has a bright 16-year-old daughter, who is at college and wants eventually to work in television, perhaps for Channel 4, which opened up a headquarters in Leeds in 2021.
He says his daughter is regularly propositioned by men to the point where she is reluctant to go to the shops wearing a summer dress or a pair of shorts.
‘I suppose what many of us are angry about is what has happened to the area in which we grew up, an area whose demographics have changed so much, so quickly.
In a very short period of time, respectable streets have become awash with heroin and young girls selling themselves.
‘It is appalling what has happened to this area. But I don’t blame the girls themselves — they are often on drugs, they are desperate for money, sometimes they have been trafficked and they live in fear of the pimps.’
Many local people feel that sex workers in Holbeck have become much more visible since the city council abandoned an experimental scheme that decriminalised prostitution in a section of Holbeck known as the ‘Managed Approach’ zone
The idea was to restrict prostitutes to a specific area of an industrial estate where nobody lives
Many of the girls who work for pimps in Leeds are Eastern European — some brought into the country under false pretences.
In 2015, shortly after the Managed Approach zone was introduced, a Polish sex worker, Daria Pionko, was beaten to death by a local man.
Sadly, the violence and intimidation can work both ways.
Last week, Dave Kelly’s own father emerged from Betfred, which he occasionally uses to place a bet.
‘As he got into his car, a girl came up to him and forced her way into his car before pulling a knife on him and demanding money.
‘Fortunately, he managed to push her out of the car and to drive off.
‘He was very shaken up and we reported what happened to the police when they arrived at the scene. I had a conversation with one officer about what had happened and he seemed to suggest that my father might have been accused of kerb crawling himself — at the age of 76! — and if it went to court it would be his word against the girl’s.
‘So he strongly discouraged him from pursuing a complaint. That can’t be right, can it?’
Dave Kelly says the police need to be tougher while the girls need to be put into rehab.
‘The people in Holbeck need a break. This has been going on too long.’ Another member of the Save Our Eyes group, Laura — she preferred for us not to use her full name since she believed she is a target for the pimps — regularly collects car registrations before posting them on the website.
She told the Mail that the problem might be solved if the girls were given more support. ‘If they all went into rehab, it might get them off the streets,’ she said. ‘But what if they leave rehab or don’t want to go in the first place? Then we are all back to square one.’
The council says that the Managed Approach zone helped reduce the overall number of sex workers on the streets. But when the Mail drove into the site of the scheme last Wednesday evening, we found at least a dozen prostitutes selling their bodies.
One woman, Caroline, who told the Mail she is 46 but looks much older, said she felt safer when the Managed Appproach policy was in place and the police kept more of an eye on the girls.
‘We don’t feel safe any more,’ she said. ‘In the past week I’ve been attacked twice by a punter and run over. I’ve complained about the punter and the police pulled him in but he’s been released without charge.’
It’s difficult to find an easy solution to the immense problems of Holbeck. It appears that the Managed Approach did work for a while but it was costly to run and the police simply don’t have the resources to keep the prostitution under control.
Meanwhile, investment in the area continues — the British Library is considering opening a multi-million-pound outpost here — and the slow process of gentrification is continuing, much to the council’s delight.
The people of Holbeck, however, aren’t that bothered about gentrification or, for that matter, gleaming new gyms providing ‘macro-based’ food diets.
They just want to go about their lives in peace without being propositioned for sex — or intimidated by the pimps. It’s surely not too much to ask.
Source : https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-12013237/Residents-Britains-legal-red-light-district-taking-control-publicly-shaming.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ito=1490&ns_campaign=1490&rand=1270