A database of men suspected of attacking sex workers should be introduced as part of a wider review of prostitution laws that could see some restrictions relaxed, police chiefs have said.
The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) backed reform in the face of severe budget cuts and the jailing of Stephen Griffiths for the brutal murders of three prostitutes in Bradford.
Deputy Chief Constable Simon Byrne, who leads for Acpo on the issue, said the existing laws were overly complex and that it was time for a debate about whether some aspects of the sex trade could be decriminalised.
Critics say the present regime – which means selling sex is not illegal but brothels and street prostitution are – forces women on to the streets and makes them less likely to seek police help when they need it.
There have been long-standing calls for an examination of ideas such as designated red light zones which could improve safety and Griffiths’ jailing for life has also focused attention on the idea of a watch-list of potentially dangerous men.
Sex workers in some parts of the country are already distributed with pictures of so-called “ugly mugs” – men who have in the past been violent or threatening towards prostitutes – but it is not co-ordinated across the country. A national roll-out is being examined by the Home Office which is to publish new guidance in the spring on policing problems linked to prostitution.
Mr Byrne told the BBC: “Any murder [is] one too many and if we can do something simple and effective to stop that then we should do so.”
Averting killings would not only save lives but also cash from hard-pressed police budgets, he said.
“When times are tough and you have all the austerity and revolution going on in the public service … there’s some hard [edged] maths to be done here,” he said. “If you can invest a small amount of money in rolling the scheme out, you can prevent an awful lot of crime.”
Asked about more fundamental reforms such as legalising brothels, he said: “Perhaps the law does need changing – some of it is frankly complicated. We’d be keen for a dialogue to see if there’s a better way of managing the problem – be it ideas around criminalising some parts of it and not others. I think it’s time for that debate.”