In late 2006, the whole of Britain watched in horror as five vulnerable female prostitutes were, one by one, over the course of one and half months, picked up off the streets of Ipswich and taken to their deaths. The last victim, Paula Clennell, was even seen on television stating that, despite news of the murders and despite being alerted to the fact a killer was on the loose, she would continue working the streets as she ‘‘needed the money’’ to fund her drug habit. The killer was eventually identified as a Mr Steve Wright, who, in February 2008, was found guilty of all five counts of murder, and sentenced to life imprisonment. But the truth is that all five deaths were preventable. Preventable, that is, for want of some political courage on the part of our leaders.
In response to the murders, there was, of course, a wide and varied national debate about policy on prostitution, and how to make these vulnerable women safer. Criminalization of demand, legalization, brothels, tolerance zones – all were considered and discussed. But one simple way to keep vulnerable women away from ‘‘the oldest oppression’’ as some feminists prefer to call it, was ignored: heroin prescription.