11 December 2006


I live in a town in which a serial killer seems to be on the loose. Three dead bodies of young women have been found in different places just outside Ipswich. Two more young women are missing. All appear to have beeen working as prostitutes — two of them, the pair now confirmed dead and named, operating from the streets around the Ipswich Town football ground that the media call the "red light district" of the town.

In fact, there are no red lights: the only illumination is from street lamps and offices, in a bleak postmodern urban landscape — a wasteland not of derelict factories and closed-down pubs but of squeaky-clean redevelopments of the past 20 years: the new Suffolk County Council headquarters, the football stadium itself, the nightclub in an old maltings that was the scene of an unrelated murder at the weekend. West End Road is where we go to recycle our waste; Handford Road is empty but for builders' merchants. Dull functional places where hardly anyone lives.

There has been prostitution not far from here for years. London Road, just round the corner, was close to being a real red-light district in the 1970s when it was multiple-occcupancy bedsit land, but it has gone all owner-occupier.

Back then, the girls worked out of scuzzy flats. Today they hang out after dark on the well maintained pavements and grass verges of the most anonymous parts of an increasingly anonymous town, waiting for punters to turn up in cars. Then they do the business in the back seat or behind a tree in the rec or whatever.

It's everyday sordid, we all know about it because we've driven past, we don't condone it. But now it turns out that one of the punters in a car — or maybe someone else — is a killer.

That makes everything different. Everyone I've spoken to feels a sense of solidarity with the girls who have been killed and with their families and friends: they are kids who went wrong rather than the lowest of the low.

But the most palpable feeling is fear. Middle-aged women who go out only to the local pub or Pizza Express won't even venture that far; ordinarily confident young women who walk around town at all hours without a care in the world are organising chaperones. The pubs are empty.

But at least the cops are waking up. I'm told by a reliable source that they had no extra officers on the streets over the weekend, but now it's a major priority to catch the perpetrator. But there's no one out to talk about it. Scary.

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