Holbeck Managed Approach: Drowning Not Swimming

Stephen Burton / Back Alleyway / CC BY-SA 2.0

The Holbeck Managed Approach has been a disaster for the community of Holbeck, bringing in drug addiction, street harassment and even murder.

I became aware of the Managed Approach in Leeds at Christmas 2015, after hearing the shocking news that Daria Pionca (a prostituted woman), was brutally murdered on Springwell Road. I knew nothing about this ‘Managed Approach’, despite living and working in Leeds all my adult life, and specialising in the assessment and management of high risk of harm male sexual offenders for West Yorkshire Probation Service. 

Daria Pionca was a 21 year old prostituted woman, who had arrived in the UK ten months earlier. She told her family that she had found bar-work. 

She was robbed of £80 and then beaten and kicked to death by Lewis Pierre, “with a sustained and forceful attack”, using his steel toe-capped boots to inflict horrific injuries to her head and body. After he left her dying, he used her money to buy himself cigarettes, cannabis and a kebab. 

Pierre, a 24 year old local man, was charged and found guilty of her murder and received a 22 year custodial sentence in 2016, at Leeds Crown Court. He had previous convictions against him for assaults on partners and one other conviction for robbing a woman. He was and is a predatory male. 

Lewis Pierre (2016).

The Managed Approach area in Leeds is a frightening, dark and isolated place, near the residential area of Holbeck. It’s full of cul-de-sacs, closed, unattended businesses and wasteland where Ms Pionca was murdered. If you were to scream for help there, no one would hear you. No one would come. 

The Managed Approach Red Light Area, Holbeck, Leeds. 

No one heard Ms Pionca’s screams. She died alone on wasteland, in the Managed Approach area, after being robbed by a violent young man. She had been left for dead in the prostitute’s “safe zone”. It clearly wasn’t and isn’t safe for women there. On the contrary. 

The Managed Approach was introduced as a 12-month pilot scheme, in October 2014, by the community partnership Safer Leeds – a group which includes Leeds City Council and West Yorkshire Police.

However, prostitution has been allowed to spread into the nearby residential areas of Holbeck and life for residents there,  is a “living hell”. Local residents refer to the area as”Hellbeck”.

I attended meetings at the Leeds Civic Hall in 2018, which were protested by the local residents of Holbeck. I spoke to some of the residents and the residents group Save Our Eyes. They were angry at the placing of the Managed Approach and the explosion in prostituted women and punters (men looking to buy sex) working outside of the Managed Approach area. 

A protest at Leeds Civic Hall 2018 by concerned and upset residents.

I heard the resident’s concerns. They were scared to leave their houses at night, especially women and girls. Local women and girls were constantly being sexually harassed (kerb-crawled) by punters day and night, and local men were being approached by prostituted women to buy sex. 

Grandparents told me that they were unable to have their grandchildren to stay, because of the permanent sexual threat of men trawling their streets, looking for cheap sex. 

Used condoms were being found all over Holbeck, as well as hundreds of needles, piles of human excrement and toilet paper – the obvious signs of street prostitution. 

Syringes, one with a needle still attached, and condom wrappers, discarded at the side of the road, Holbeck 2020.

Local residents in Holbeck were seeing sex acts committed publicly in their gardens, alleyways, parks, bin-yards and in punters cars parked outside their homes. 

I attended another meeting held by the “Listening Well” project, on 11th February 2020, a year later, at St Matthews Community Centre, attended by only a few residents, business owners and West Yorkshire police. 

What a difference in attitude! The “progress” over the year was chilling. The residents were beaten down, broken and apathetic and spoke of “accommodating” and “adjusting” to the spread of prostitution and the associated crime into the residential areas where they lived. It was heart-breaking to hear. The fight had all but gone from them. 

The numbers of residents at the meeting had decreased significantly and so had the motivation to fight what Leeds City Council had done to Holbeck.  

It was reported at the meeting that a lot of the families that had initially protested the Managed Approach in Holbeck had had to move away, to protect their young children from the dangers of prostitution and the crime that goes hand in hand with it – drugs, organised crime and human trafficking. 

Of course, this was bound to happen. These families, though, were the lucky ones. They could afford to escape. The people and children who are left in Holbeck today are trapped. Many are chronically ill, disabled and elderly. They live there because they cannot afford to move away. Holbeck is a deprived working class area of Leeds, with a massive problem with street prostitution. 

Holbeck now has prostituted women and teenage girls specifically moving into Holbeck, because there are so many sex-buyers cruising around the streets, looking to buy sex, from any female they see. These women are moving into an area of growth within the sex-industry, in streets where families are bringing up children, in Leeds. 

Holbeck houses an increasing number of substance addicted tenants who are also choosing to move to Holbeck in order to secure a regular supply of class-A drugs. Heroin and crack. Drug addicts without gainful employment, resort to acquisitive offending, “grafting”, as it’s called. The men tend to rob and burgle to feed their addictions, and the women are prostituted. 

Prostitution is not women led, it’s sex-buyer (men) led. Pimp (men) led. People seem to forget this, or are ignorant of this fact. It’s only men that benefit from the sale of women and girls. 

There is now a high demand for prostitutes in Holbeck and that demand is met. I’ve seen very young teenage Romanian girls, who have been trafficked, in Holbeck. I’ve also seen a lot of Polish young women going into illegal brothels that are in the residential areas. 

This claim of human trafficking can be substantiated by perusing the comments that sex-buyers make on the site Barepunting.net. They are disgusting comments made by punters. The prostituted woman’s ethnicity is commonly discussed and fetishised by the men on this forum. 

Most of the prostituted women and teenage girls I have seen are clearly addicted to crack and heroin. It’s very obvious and they are very sick. 

The physical condition of many of these women is alarming. They are emaciated, walking in pain, due to injecting heroin into the groin and getting abscesses, or having been with “rough” punters/men. 

Many prostituted teenage girls and young women are very recent survivors of Child Sexual Abuse and most suffer episodes of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Prostitution is not “work”, it’s abuse. 

These women and girls are not physically or psychologically well enough to hold down regular employment because of a myriad of complex physical and mental health reasons. They are deemed not fit for work by doctors and the Department of Work and Pensions, yet prostitution is now sanitised and called “sex work”.

If the Managed Approach is an example of “sex work”, then I see it as  this: the sexual abuse of the most vulnerable women and girls in Leeds, by the most predatory of men. 

And what of the predatory punters, the men who buy sexual abuse? They are never discussed or targeted for action. They have total impunity from the law and they know this. 

During lockdown, the illegal brothels that have sprung up in the residential areas over the last couple of years have had a constant stream of male sex-buyers and drug buyers. The prostituted women have still been working and the men still kept on coming. 

And I mean constant. I walked by one brothel on a Saturday afternoon in the last two weeks of writing this article and saw drugs being bought by a young prostituted woman. She was then seen looking for punters by St Matthew’s Community Centre, across the road. 

She bought the drugs from a house that is also a brothel, behind the shops on Holbeck Road. The link between prostitution and drug addiction couldn’t have been clearer. 

In July 2020, an Independent Review on the Managed Approach was requested by Leeds City Council. Researchers from the University of Huddersfield, were commissioned to review the policy. 

“Only 120 residents responded to the survey and the report’s authors stated that the 6% response rate meant “the findings cannot be taken as representative of the people of Holbeck””.

It was seen as a “white-wash”, by residents groups Save Our Eyes and local feminist groups such as Leeds ReSisters. Protests and banners were hung from the viaduct in protest. 

September 2020, Leeds ReSisters protest the state sponsored sale of women in Holbeck.

The illegal brothels have been reported to West Yorkshire Police, on numerous occasions, by local residents, but to date they operate with impunity. No raids. No evictions. Again, these brothels and drug houses run twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. With impunity. 

And what of the punters, the men who buy sex in Holbeck? Most of them in cars and vans are white, middle-aged, heterosexual men and across the class divide. 

A sex-buyer and prostituted woman, in a residential area. Holbeck. Sept 2020.

Unfortunately, I can report that they are in abundance and cruising around Holbeck, in their prestige and family saloons, with their passenger windows wide open, at four in the morning, trawling for vulnerable women to pay for something resembling “sex”.  The sense of entitlement they display is quite something to behold. 

They are never attacked, robbed, or raped, or sexually harassed. They are the only ones not scared in Holbeck. It’s their hunting ground. They are ones benefiting from this council sponsored nightmare – the punters and the pimps. 

After committing sex acts with a prostituted woman, the punter then has only a two minute drive before he accesses the motorways. He is away from Holbeck and out of Leeds in five minutes. He returns home to where his children and wife slumber safely, in beds, away from the horrors of the Managed Approach area. The horrors that he has added to. The horrors provided for him, because he so demands. 

These men need a deterrent to stop them doing what they are doing – not legal impunity. 

The buying of sex in the UK needs criminalising, in line with the Nordic Model. Sex-buyers need criminalising and they need exposing as the sexual predators that they are. Exposure to their wives, families, children and employers. These men, like all sexual abusers, are terrified of exposure, because they know that what they are doing is wrong – very, very, wrong. 

The Managed Approach to street prostitution in Leeds has been a social disaster. Leeds City Council should be ashamed of this structure and be seeking to end it, not perpetuate it. Prostitution cannot be rendered safe, ever.  

Leeds is a city that has a dreadful history associated with prostitution. Peter Suttcliffe, aka the Yorkshire Ripper, murdered 13 women and tried to kill seven others during a six year reign of terror. He targeted, mostly, prostituted women. 

The thought that this can be contained within an isolated and frightening area in south Leeds is incredible and dangerous. 

Two weeks ago there was a leak from Leeds City Council, stating that Cross Gates, another deprived working class area in Leeds, had been earmarked for a feasibility investigation into extending the Managed Approach to street prostitution there. It has been denied by Councillors. 

Holbeck as a community has been decimated. This is the lesson that West Yorkshire Police and Leeds City Council need to learn.  

The young school girls who reside in Holbeck are constantly being approached by men in cars and on foot, as they go to school in their school uniforms, to Ruth Gorse High School. The headteacher, Ben Mallinson, has spoken out about this on record and he fears that a girl will be abducted, for rape or worse, by these paedophile punters who come to Holbeck. 

On 11th November 2020, a White Paper was was voted on by Leeds City Council on the Managed Approach. Conservative councillors voted for an “exit strategy” from this deplorable safeguarding nightmare. 

Labour councillors such as Debra Coupar (Labour) and Judith Blake (Labour), voted for it to continue. The Labour Councillors have been sold the trope that “sex work is work” and despite all the abuse and associated crime and now evidence that school girls are being targeted by paedophiles, they don’t and haven’t voted for the exit strategy. Leeds City Council and West Yorkshire Police are out of their depth. 

As a woman and a sexual offender professional involved in child protection, I am appalled by these Labour Councillors.  

The women and girls of Holbeck are swimming in a cesspit of depravity, Leeds Labour Councillor’s group. They are not waving, they are drowning in a very unsafe area, thanks to the imposition of the Managed Approach. 

4 Comments

  1. Brilliant article, Belstaffie. Really brings home the utter depravity of the predatory men endangering all women and children in Holbeck.
    The video of the Full Council discussing Cllr Carter’s sensible White Paper urging an end to the MA is quite something. https://youtu.be/LnvJ2bLAgSY
    Cllr Sarah Field spoke up for women https://youtu.be/sZqdeCELTys but where are the Labour women? Why is the industrial rape and assault of working class or impoverished women and girls seen as acceptable?
    I’m proud to resist with you.

  2. This turns my stomach. A documentary needs to be done on this as soon as possible is one idea I have. A forum possibly to collect ideas so as to get as wide of exposure as possible to shame ALL the perpetrators and enablers (politicians, cops, punters, etc)? Any interviews with former Holbeck homeowners who left would be good I’d think (anonymously given of course). What solutions to helping shut this dangerous atrocity and cruelty down? Great reportage Belstaffie. Thank you for your tireless work in this arena.

  3. Fantastic report Belstaffie.
    Watched your interview on Sonya Poulton’s Raw Report, hence me checking out your page here.
    There should be more done to help these poor women. I have also watched the mini documentary on Holbeck on BBC 3. Sex, Lies and Murder where they touch on poor Daria Pionca’s fate. How can the council and the police be so incompetent??? Out of sight, out of mind I suppose. Well it’s not out of sight for the residents of Holbeck.

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