There is only one reason why women take to the derelict streets just yards from Bradford’s city centre to sell sex – to buy the drugs on which most have been dependent since they were teenagers.
The urgent need for heroin – either smoked or injected – and crack, normally topped up with a prescription of methadone and further fuelled with strong cheap alcohol, is what drives them out to take risks by climbing into a stranger’s car.
And at least three paid the ultimate price. Susan Blamires, 36, Shelley Armitage, 31, and Susan Rushworth, a 43-year-old grandmother were murdered in the past year.
Stephen Griffiths, 40, a PhD student in criminology – whose research included Jack the Ripper – has been charged with the murders. Griffiths had previously been treated for psychiatric problems at the high-security Rampton hospital.
The case has, unsurprisingly, been compared to that of the Yorkshire Ripper who terrorised these streets more than 30 years ago. It has also highlighted a world that is often overlooked until those that inhabit it meet with tragedy such as the 2006 Ipswich murders of five prostitutes by Steve Wright.
Stick thin, with her black hair scraped back off her face, disintegrating teeth and stained lips, Mary (not her real name) looks at least two decades older than her 26 years, due to a seven-year hard drug problem. She said she was too scared to sell sex to strangers herself, but she knows what it feels like to be desperate.
“They normally come here when they start feeling ill, when they are withdrawing. It’s like a really bad flu, you feel cold and have hot flushes. Sweating like. Some have been on it for years. Shelley [Armitage] was doing it since she was 15. They do it for the money. It is as simple as that. They might want to keep a bit of extra for the day after but it is all about drugs, everyone is on something and that is why they are here. She didn’t deserve to die. She was a nice person,” she said in a lilting mix of Irish and Yorkshire.
It is a refrain that is all too common among the people that, until the arrival of police on Monday night, lived and worked in the midst of the city’s notorious sex industry.