Kerb-crawling protests are falling on deaf ears

Leith residents want a review of kerb-crawling laws. Picture: Michael Gillen
Leith residents want a review of kerb-crawling laws. Picture: Michael Gillen
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A REVIEW of kerb-crawling laws to crack down on prostitution in Leith has been called for amid concerns that evidence rules are making convictions all but impossible.

Residents have called for a review after claiming men who repeatedly circle in their cars near Leith Links and then pick up “known prostitutes” are
escaping prosecution because, police say, someone must have overheard their conversation before they could be charged.

Rob Kirkwood, of Leith Links Residents Association, said: “We see cars stopping, a conversation going on between a known prostitute and the prostitute getting into the car. We have given numbers to the police, but they say ‘You didn’t hear what was going on’.

“You don’t need to hear a conversation between burglars if you see them standing outside a bank with a jemmy. Police frequently arrest people who ‘go equipped’. When a guy in a car drives round the area ten or 15 times, it’s almost synonymous with going equipped. He is after something.”

Mr Kirkwood said when residents’ representatives met police and prosecutors, they were told the standard of evidence required was that the woman herself was prepared to testify against the client and that the transaction was overheard.

“We were astounded and said in that case conviction was practically impossible. The police inspector said he felt his hands were tied by this high standard of evidence and used it as an explanation for the low level of convictions in Edinburgh. He said they were arresting people and it was going to fiscal who dismissed it as not being sufficient.”

Mr Kirkwood claimed there was a difference in the way the law was being interpreted in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

In 2011-12, there were ten prosecutions resulting in nine convictions in Lothian and Borders compared with 36 prosecutions leading to 30 convictions in Strathclyde.

He said: “We need clarity on what the legislation is actually saying. We don’t want a situation where the women feel they can ply their trade in certain areas because the law is applied differently. We want laws to be applied rigorously and we want the issue of what constitutes evidence looked at again.”

Edinburgh Northern & Leith MSP Malcolm Chisholm said the Solicitor General, Lesley Thomson, told him she had studied all the cases and there was no difference between the interpretation of the law in 
Edinburgh and Glasgow.

However, Mr Chisholm said: “I do share my constituents’ concerns that some people who are clearly kerb-crawling are not being charged and convicted.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said it was up to police and prosecutors to decide what action to take based on each circumstance.

The police said they took a “proactive approach” to enforcing legislation around prostitution. “Any crimes that are observed during patrols will be dealt with accordingly, and the presence of police in these locations helps maintain the safety and security of all local residents and workers.

“Police will always act on any information relating to prostitution, brothel keeping, or similar offences.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com