Sex trade inquiry shelved as council changes approach
PLANS to hold a public inquiry into Cheltenham's sex trade have been shelved.
Borough council chiefs backed a motion earlier this year to hold an in-depth review of prostitution and people trafficking in the town.
It came after Tory councillor Barbara Driver raised concerns there was nothing in place to track the scale of the problem.
Her call was taken up by Tory councillors, who planned to hold a full one-day inquiry later this year.
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But now the group has announced that the idea has been abandoned in the short-term in favour of a different approach.
Instead, members will spend the coming months conducting research into the issue to gauge the depth of the problem.
Councillor Anne Regan (C, Warden Hill), who is on the working group, said: "We agreed that, as things stand, it would be more useful to find out more about this before going straight into a public inquiry.
"It's a very complex and sensitive issue and we need to have all the relevant facts in front of us before we can decide how, and to what extent, it is affecting people in Cheltenham.
"Over the next two months, we will be working with all the relevant agencies, including social workers and police, to get their opinions on board, before making our findings public.
"We may also speak to people directly affected by these issues including men and women involved in prostitution."
The study will aim to address all issues relating to the town's sex trade, included licensed sexual entertainment as well as illegal vice- related activity.
It will see the council work with adult and children safeguarding boards, as well as the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre to develop a strategy to fight the problem.
Police have given the idea their backing, saying it could help to stop the exploitation of young women and other vulnerable people in the area.
The working group is due to report to the full council in December with its findings and any recommendations.
Mrs Regan said the change of plan did not mean the matter was being put on the back-burner.
"It does not mean we aren't taking this issue seriously," she added.
"We just feel it is more appropriate to take a more in-depth approach given the complexity of the situation."
Cheltenham has endured problems with sex crime in the past.
It was at the centre of a nationwide swoop in 2008, called Operation Pentameter II, in which brothels across the town were raided.
Earlier this month a man and a woman, from the town, were charged with conspiring to run a brothel following raids in Suffolk Road and Pittville Lawn.