29 April 2010 in Luton Crown Court Claire Finch was found not guilty of a criminal charge of keeping a brothel. The jury, in line with public opinion, refused to criminalise Ms Finch for working together with friends from her own home for safety.
This prosecution was motivated by a moral crusade and financial incentives for the police. Since Proceeds of Crime legislation was introduced, police are able to keep any money resulting from raids.
This not guilty verdict greatly strengthens the case for prostitution to be decriminalised so that women are able to work more safely together as in New Zealand.
. . ACTION ALERT . . . ACTION ALERT . . . ACTION ALERT . . .
Please can you write immediately to Sarah Brown, firstname.lastname@example.org, at Luton Crown Prosecution Service, using the letter below to express your concerns about Ms F who is being prosecuted for brothel-keeping, an offence which carries a maximum sentence of seven years imprisonment.
Ms F is a mother and was working with four friends for safety. She deliberately chose to work with more mature women because she said they were more able “to make their own minds up. They’re not being hoodwinked.
We enclose below our letter to the CPS with details of her case, asking for the prosecution to be dropped. The CPS replied refusing and the case is going ahead on 2 November.
Please can you copy any letter you write to Nazir Afzal, Chief Prosecutor for London, email@example.com, and to ourselves.
Working with the English Collective of Prostitutes, LAW has successfully pressed for prosecutions to be dropped against women, often in a similar situation as Ms F, and sometimes at the last minute in court. We hope we can have the same impact this time and prevent another woman’s life being blighted by a criminal record and possible prison sentence.
Legal Action for Women
Crossroads Women’s Centre PO Box 287 London NW6 5QU
Tel: 020 7482 2496 minicom/voice Fax: 020 7209 4761
Crown Prosecution Service
7 - 9 Castle St., Luton
Bedfordshire, LU1 3AJ
DX 120503 Luton 6
27 July 2009
Dear Sarah Brown,
We are writing on behalf of Ms F who has been charged under Section 33A of Sexual Offences Act 1956 with keeping/managing a brothel. Ms F is due to appear at Luton Magistrates Court tomorrow, July to be given a date for the Crown Court trial.
On 19 November 2008, 20 uniformed police officers, from Kempston Economic Crime Unit, kicked in Ms F front door and a side door and entered her home. They gave no reason for this raid. Ms F was not shown the officers’ identification or a warrant. The police searched every room in the house and Ms F’s personal belongings. They took £700 from her purse that had been put aside to pay the mortgage. As well as this money, her laptop computer, mobile phone, driving licence and passport were taken. No receipt was given for the cash or any of these items. Ms F was taken to Dunstable police station, questioned at length and charged with keeping/managing a brothel and with money laundering. Money laundering charges have since been dropped.
Ms F gave a full statement in which she admitted to providing sexual services. In her statement she explained that she invited four other women to work with her for safety and went to great lengths to ensure that there was never a time when a woman was left on her own in the house. The women worked in twos taking different shifts. Ms F is 48 years old. All the women she works with are over 35. Ms F deliberately chose to work with more mature women who are able “to make their own minds up. They’re not being hoodwinked . . .” Ms F has children and explained that because of this, working with inexperienced younger women “would not sit morally well with me.”
Since the November raid, Ms F has been forced to work alone. She is constantly fearful of attack and her health has been severely affected. She is suffering from depression, insomnia, and any sudden loud noises bring on a panic attack involving the memories of the raid, symptoms that we understand are consistent with post traumatic stress disorder. Her blood pressure has risen to a near dangerous level and relationships with some of her family have fractured. Her GP, who is extremely sympathetic, has prescribed anti-depressants and sleeping tablets, which she is now dependent upon.
We feel strongly that this is an abuse of process.
1. No evidence of force, coercion, violence, abuse or trafficking has been found by police. Ms F was working consensually and independently with friends in order to ensure everyone’s safety.
2. There have never been any complaints from neighbours or other local people against Ms F. She is well known and liked in the local community. Following the police raid on her home, her neighbours and her family have circulated a petition and are ready to come to court in her defence.
3. Ms F had good reason to believe that her working arrangements were sanctioned by the authorities. Up until the time of the raid in November 2008, her contact with local police had been based on their concern for her welfare. A few years ago, two local uniformed officers called at 10pm one Friday evening to warn her that a man was going around premises, refusing to pay for services and damaging the property. Having advised her about her own protection, the officers left. There have been no further police visits since.
In October 2008, David Dennis, a planning officer from South Bedfordshire County Council Planning Department visited her home. He informed Ms F that his department had received information that she was running a business from her home. She told him she had been working from home for ten years, and showed him around. He subsequently left a message on her ansaphone saying he was happy with his findings and would be putting it in writing, which he did on 29 October (enclosed).
4. There is widespread opposition including among members of parliament and peers to women being criminalised for working collectively and consensually, We call your attention to statements from ministers and other parliamentarians that women working together in premises should not be penalised. In 2006, Home Office minister Fiona Mactaggart proposed changes to the prostitution laws:
“Where women are working for themselves and are not being managed or pimped on a large scale, in the interim it is probably more sensible not to use the very serious penalties we have against people who run brothels. Very small scale operations can operate in a way that is not disruptive to neighbours.” (Daily Telegraph 18 January 2006).
The Home Office has acknowledged:
“ . . .the present definition of brothel ran counter to advice that, in the interests of safety, women should not sell sex alone.” (The Times 18 January 2006).
During the Second Reading of the Policing and Crime Bill (19 January 2009) Minister of State, Alan Campbell spoke against the criminalisation of women who “were simply making cups of tea, keeping the diary and helping to keep the women safe”.
The Royal College of Nursing voted an overwhelming 93% at their annual congress in May to: “make recommendations to the UK government to allow up to four sex workers to work together legally before requiring a license”.
Public opposition to the criminalisation of women in precisely Ms F’s situation has forced the government to acknowledge, in law, the difference between consensual situations where sex workers are working voluntarily, and situations where women are being coerced. Clause 13 of the Policing and Crime Bill, which criminalises the purchase of sex, has been amended to replace “controlled for gain” with “force, deception or threats”.
You must be aware that there is a significant opposition within the police to women being criminalised in this way. A number of officers who dealt with Ms F indicated they didn’t agree with her being prosecuted and considered the investigation a waste of police resources.
The public is also increasingly concerned at police priorities which result in 20 officers raiding premises where women are working consensually, while the investigation of rape and other violence continues to be downgraded and dismissed.
6. There also concern that prosecutions of consenting sex are being fuelled by Proceeds of Crime legislation. Under this legislation, which is being strengthened by the Policing and Crime Bill, the police and courts are empowered to seize the assets of those “convicted of an offence in proceedings before the Crown Court”. Brothel-keeping was made an “either way offence” (one that can be tried in the Magistrates or Crown Court) in 2003. Any money confiscated as a result of these prosecutions is split between the Home Office, the CPS, the Courts Service and the police. The fact that Ms F’s home was raided by officers from the Economic Crime Unit, a unit focussed on “asset recovery”, and that her police interview was centred on gathering information about her income and assets, indicates that a desire to make money may be behind the raid.
All polls confirm that the public wants effective action against rape and other violent attacks to be the top police priority and would be understandably distressed if police priorities were being corrupted by an opportunity to profit.
7. Ms F’s situation is deserving of compassionate discretion. She went into this line of work because she was struggling to raise her two children single-handed. For over 17 years, her ex-husband has refused to pay any maintenance or child support so she has had to survive through her own endeavours.
8. Criminalisation institutionalises women in prostitution. Ms F has NO PREVIOUS CONVICTIONS. If she is convicted it will ruin her chances of ever finding other employment as well as having other serious effects on her life.
9. This prosecution is not in the public interest. How can this prosecution be justified when there is no evidence of harm or nuisance being caused, and when a prosecution would inflict a criminal record on Ms F?
As you know, “The Code for Crown Prosecutors” specifies that “ . . . the decision to prosecute an individual is a serious step. . . . Even in a small case a prosecution has serious implications for all involved.”
Quoting Lord Shawcross when he was Attorney General, the Code reiterates the fundamental principle that even where there may be evidence which would seem to constitute an offence, discretion can and should be applied in deciding whether to prosecute:
“It has never been the rule in this country — I hope it never will be — that suspected criminal offences must automatically be the subject of prosecution”.
(House of Commons Debates, volume 483, column 681, 29 January 1951.)
If this prosecution were to go ahead, many would view it as vindictive and persecutory.
We would be grateful if you would exercise your discretion and drop this prosecution.
Thanking you for your urgent attention to this matter.
Nadine Dorries, MP
Nazir Afzal, Director, CPS London
Norman Costain, County Councillor,
Richard Newcombe, Chief Crown Prosecutor, Luton