21 December 2006


There was another arrest the day before yesterday – Steve Wright, 48, of London Road, Ipswich, a forklift-driver at Felixstowe docks – but not a lot since apart from the news that the police are detaining for questioning both Wright and Tom Stephens, the first suspect arrested, for as long as they can.

I’ve now done my very small bit to help the murder investigation: I gave a witness statement yesterday morning to the police about possibly having seen Paula Clennell the weekend before last (see post here). The cops doing the interviews were remarkably upbeat given the thanklessness of their task and open about the unreliability of eyewitness testimony. “But you never know,” said the one who did me. “Anything could turn out to be important.”

In the afternoon I took a walk around the Ipswich “red light district” with a foreign journalist (a woman) who wanted a guided tour. London Road was still cordoned off after the arrest of Wright. There were cameras on cranes at the end of the street, crews everywhere, quite a few cops – and nothing happening. Maybe we should have challenged the police when they told us we couldn’t just wander round, but it didn’t seem worth it. On Handford Road there was a fractious traffic jam, with lots of honking from frustrated motorists desperate to get home. West End Road was just unspeakably bleak.

By the time we got there it was dark and getting very cold, with a freezing fog coming down. “There are no CCTV cameras here,” said my friend, and she was right. Nor were there many people – we saw a couple of teenage boys in hoodies and two pairs of cops looking very fed up in parked patrol cars, but that was it. I can’t think of anywhere more soulless. It’s a wasteland of car showrooms, builders’ merchants and office blocks. “How could anyone come out here?” asked my friend, and I didn’t reply. But the answer is of course drug addiction.

Heroin hit Ipswich big-time – as it hit the rest of the UK – after the Iranian revolution of 1979. Many of my peers got hooked. Two of the members of my teenage punk band in Ipswich in the late 1970s, both boys from caring middle-class homes, committed suicide because they couldn’t cope with withdrawal from long-term smack habits. Two women friends I met on the left journalism scene in the early 1980s spent most evenings ten years later pulling tricks on the street in Kings Cross to buy gear. I could go on.

But it’s not just smack: most if not all of the girls killed in Ipswich were also crack addicts. And that’s a different problem, because there’s no simple way out. If you’re a heroin addict, you need your fix and once you’ve got it you chill out. With heroin, it makes sense to give addicts maintenance prescriptions and lots of love and care. But crack isn’t like that. Crackheads get their hit and turn psychotic, and the more they take the more they want and the worse they get. There's no such thing as a maintenance dose.

This in itself makes a mockery of nearly every suggested change of drugs or prostitution policy that has been put forward as a means of reducing the chances that anything like the Ipswich murders could happen again. Legalised brothels or “tolerance zones” would do nothing to protect girls who are working the streets to fund crack habits. But making it illegal for men to pay for sex would be even worse: it would have the effect of making street prostitution both more lucrative and more dangerous. You can’t treat crack addiction with prescriptions. But coming down harder on suppliers of the drug would simply increase the price paid by addicts, at least some of whom would be driven to take greater risks to get the cash.

Which is not to say that nothing should be done, just that what should be done isn’t obvious.

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