Mum tells how perverts try to lure daughter, 14, away for sex in UK's first 'legal' red light district as she walks to school

Horrified Gemma Lynch told The Sun Online her daughter Chloe – who was just 13 at the time – was left terrified after being approached a number of times by old men looking for sex in the Holbeck area of Leeds while wearing her school uniform.

She said: “A man approached her and asked her ‘are you working? I live up there, come with me.’

“She was in school uniform so there’s absolutely no way this horrible man didn’t know what he was doing."

The chilling account comes after it was revealed another pervert tried to "buy" a baby boy for one hour – asking the child's grandmother how much it would cost.

Police and council introduced a “managed” red-light zone in the Holbeck area of Leeds four years ago in an effort to protect sex workers from abuse.

But residents have complained the controversial scheme has been a disaster and led to a surge in violence, sex and drug-taking in the streets – sometimes in full view of children.

Single mum Gemma, 35, told the Sun Online the problem has become so bad her daughter Chloe has been propositioned for sex on two separate occasions.

She added: "It happened on another occasion in the same area when she was in her school uniform and a man asked her if she was 'working'.

"It's horrible to have to explain a situation like that to your young daughter…she shouldn't have to hear it.

"I won't let her go out on her own now because I'm scared something might happen, every mum in Holbeck is the same.

"But the managed area is on the way to school for her and there's no way around it or a bus route, it's unavoidable.

"How long is it going to be until something really bad happens here?"

She said she didn't report the incident to police because she feared they wouldn't do anything.

Chloe, 14, said: “I was on my way to school when this old man came and asked me if I was 'working' and invited me to go back to his house.

"I didn't completely know what he meant but now I'm sure he was asking me to have sex with him.

"I said 'no' and told him I was on my way to school. It was frightening to be approached by someone in that way.”

Gemma, who has another daughter aged nine, said she’d seen women injecting drugs and people having sex in public.

She said: “I worry about my youngest daughter in the future because she’s getting towards the age when she might have to walk to school as well.

“I’ve been approached and asked the same question a number of times as well. It’s horrible.”

Councillors will today discuss whether to scrap the “managed zone” in the district close to Leeds United’s Elland Road.

Britain’s first “legal” red light district was introduced to the Holbeck district to allow prostitutes to ply their trade on the streets at night without fear of arrest.

Prostitution – paying someone for sex – is not in itself illegal, but all the activities associated with it, such as soliciting and kerb-crawling, are.

Up until 2014, the policy in Holbeck was one of zero tolerance and anyone found kerb-crawling or soliciting was cautioned, arrested or fined up to £1,000.

But – in a move aimed at safeguarding sex workers – police and the council agreed to turn a blind eye to these illegal activities in Holbeck between 7pm and 7am, claiming it would contain the problem in one sparsely populated area and make it easier for prostitutes to report crime or exploitation.

Local residents and business owners claim the controversial move has escalated violence in the district, while drug use and couples having sex happens in full view of kids.

Mum-of-three and Holbeck resident Katie Marsh, 25, said she now wanted to move to another area in Leeds.

She said: “There are used condoms and needles all over the streets.

“It’s horrible having to raise your children in an area like this, where sex and drugs are so rampant.

“Sometimes my little ones will see something on the floor and ask ‘what’s that?’ What am I supposed to say?


Prostitution – paying someone for sex – is not in itself illegal, but all the activities associated with it, such as soliciting in public, kerb-crawling and pimping are.

However brothels – understood as any premises which are used by more than one worker for prostitution – are illegal.

In 2016, a Home Affairs Select Committee backed a call to change the rules on brothel-keeping and completely decriminalise sex work, but the law has remained unchanged.

“Lots of people I know have been approached by men asking for sex, even little children. It’s disgusting.

“People are scared to go out at night."

Claire Bentley-Smith, who has a nine-year-old son, said: “The zone was created to try to deal with an existing problem, but there’s been no thought for the impact on the community.

“Men are now coming from all over Yorkshire to use the services. Holbeck has become a sex tourist hotspot.”

She added: “Most of these girls have come through times of terrible trauma and that’s why they have ended up here.

“They are basically sex slaves who are organised and ordered around by other people. Their stories are absolutely heart-breaking.

“All the sex workers I have encountered are sad and miserable but unfortunately locked into the life they live.”

One sex worker, who didn’t want to be named, said many of the girls work for pimps who pay them in crack cocaine instead of cash.

Another told the Sun Online sex workers in Holbeck charge as little as £20 for sexual intercourse.

A Leeds woman in her 30s said: "I worked out here years ago but then I got off drugs and was able to leave. Now I'm taking again so I've had to come back to earn money for drugs.

"We do get the odd person who is bad to us but we're mostly safe because of the cameras."

A woman, in her 20s, said: "I moved here from Romania so that I could earn more money.

"I heard this was a good place to work so came as soon as I arrived in the country two months ago.

"I like it because it feels safe and I make good money, normally £100 a night."

A local girl in her 20s said: "I can make £1,000 a week out here. That's more than any other job I could get so why wouldn't I?"

Leeds City Council admitted the “managed area” was “still a work in progress”.

Cllr Debra Coupar, Leeds City Council’s executive member for communities said: “Taking account of views and concerns we have already changed the operational hours of the managed approach, established a dedicated policing team and increased local environmental budgets and resources to support the local community and local businesses.

“We do acknowledge that this is still work in progress and that there is more that needs to be done to fully address the concerns of local people.

“To further inform our thinking and actions moving forward we are continuing to meet with local residents to develop solutions that work for the local community.

“Our work on the managed approach is under continuous review as we seek to ensure it is meeting the original aims set, with a particular emphasis on significantly reducing the impact of on-street sex work on local residential communities.

“If these aims are not met, further steps will need to be taken and further options will have to be considered to tackle the long-standing challenges associated with on-street sex work.”

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