- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 13, 2006

IPSWICH, England — Fear gripped this provincial port yesterday after the slayings of five prostitutes, as police hunted for a suspected serial killer and the city offered a shuttle service for all women.

Prime Minister Tony Blair extended condolences to the victims’ families — a gesture that would have been unheard of three decades ago when the so-called “Yorkshire Ripper” killed 13 women, most of them prostitutes.

“We support the police fully in dealing with the horror of this situation and also with the entirely understandable fear there is in the community,” Mr. Blair told the House of Commons yesterday in an address that prompted a debate over changing policies on prostitution. Some legislators suggested legalizing brothels to make work safer for prostitutes.

City authorities and local businesses organized shuttle services to transport women home from work, and the City Council’s monthly newsletter published a safety message advising women not to walk the streets alone. “Stick together,” it said.

Some businesses also offered female workers special hand-held alarms.

The victims, whose naked bodies were discovered over 10 days within a few miles of each other, were all prostitutes. Still, residents saw a more general threat. “Where next?” one newspaper headline said yesterday.

“Suffolk Strangler,” said another, referring to one of the victims who was found strangled.

“The mood is dark,” said shopkeeper Pat Chamberlain. “You can see it in the faces of the customers. Although they’re shopping, in the backs of their minds, they’re thinking about it.”

The victims included a trainee beautician, a mother of three daughters and an insurance worker. Some fell into prostitution to support drug habits.

Two bodies have yet to be identified, but one was thought to be that of 24-year-old Paula Clennell, who was interviewed on television last week and said she was scared but determined to get back on the street because she needed money for heroin. Days later, she vanished.

Another was thought to be Annette Nicholls, a prostitute who was recently reported missing, according to police.

Police were working their way through a list of potential suspects yesterday and investigating more than 2,000 calls made to a hot line. The News of the World newspaper offered a $493,000 reward for information leading to the killer’s arrest.

Ipswich, a city of about 120,000 located some 70 miles northeast of London, used to be a bustling River Orwell port in the 19th century. There were nearly 40 brothels in the red-light district at the time, but these days prostitutes ply their trade on a quiet road lined by red-brick houses in the shadow of the town’s main soccer stadium.

Before the slayings, about 40 prostitutes worked the street, said Hannah Besley, a town official. “It’s now got to such a critical stage that they are terrified, and last night it was very quiet.”

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