August 2 2014 Latest news:
Thursday, May 15, 2014
The owner of budget hotels in the heart of Norwich has admitted prostitutes have used his properties, but insists he is taking action to keep sex workers away.
The MJB Group describes itself as a “family-owned” budget hotel operator which also runs a number of apartments within the region.
With seven properties in Norwich and a further six spread across Wymondham, Watton, Dereham, Langham and Taverham it covers a significant swathe of the county.
The strategy of the group is underpinned by a no frills service where customers are provided with a code after booking, which they then have to punch into locks to access the entrance and rooms of the buildings.
In recent years a number of well-known hospitality businesses have been absorbed into the MJB Group and transformed using its model,
including: The Beeches Hotel on Earlham Road, Norwich, and The Abbey Hotel in Wymondham.
But Tony Burlingham, who runs MJB Properties, claims his are not the only hotels being used by sex workers, saying police action to get prostitutes off the streets has driven them into hotels across the city.
Meanwhile, today it emerged Norwich City Council is investigating a number of on-going complaints regarding his portfolio of properties, including alleged health and safety, public health and planning enforcement issues.
Two properties which Mr Burlingham owns - one in Unthank Road, in the city’s Golden Triangle, and one at The Beeches, in Earlham Road - were raided by police last December.
A 35-year-old woman was arrested at the Earlham Road property on suspicion of managing a brothel. She was questioned and cautioned for controlling prostitution for gain.
A 30-year-old woman who was arrested on suspicion of illegal entry to the UK and possession of a Class A drug, was cautioned after being found with a quantity of crystal meth. She has been deported.
Police said a third woman who was found at the property has been directed to support services and is no longer involved in the sex industry.
Norfolk police worked alongside the UK Border Agency, HM Revenue and Customs and the Department for Work and Pensions to carry out the raids, which were carried out under the Sexual Offences Act.
The action was taken after police received information that illegal sexual activity was taking place at the properties.
A spokeswoman for Norfolk police said: “Police have been working closely with the owner of the premises and will continue to target offenders involved in prostitution, both on and off the streets.”
Mr Burlingham, who owns properties across Norfolk, said he was taking action to tackle the issue, but said the law made it hard for hotel owners to do so.
He said: “One in five hotel bedrooms have got a prostitute in them. Police have taken the crime off the street and have moved it into hotel bedrooms.”
He said Norfolk police officers had told him that scores of hotel rooms in Norwich were regularly being used by prostitutes. Norfolk police were asked if that was the case, but had not responded at the time of going to press.
Mr Burlingham said he had sought clarity from the Home Office on the legal position if a prostitute checked into one of his rooms.
While there are laws against kerb-crawling, soliciting and running brothels in England and Wales, selling sex behind closed doors is legal, as is buying sex - unless a third party is controlling the prostitute for gain or the prostitute is subjected to force, deception, coercion or threats.
Mr Burlingham said that meant it was very difficult to stop prostitution from happening in hotels, particularly when bookings for are done online.
Mr Burlingham said: “What we have done is turned the internet off and have put car park restrictions on, so people who book a room can only have one car. And if you come into my hotels now you have got to give me your car registration.”
He said switching off the internet aimed to stop prostitutes in his rooms using his hotel’s IP address to go onto websites to offer their services. And he said limiting the number of cars would prevent pimps from parking in the car park.
Mr Burlingham added: “I have tried to kick prostitutes out and they have said they are not doing anything illegal. They have said they would sue me for loss of earnings.
“So, the only way I can stop it is by controlling the car park. At the end of the day, I am trying to nip it in the bud so it does not happen.”
Guests who stay at Mr Burlingham’s hotels are issued with codes to get into the properties and there is no on-site reception.
Mr Burlingham said his Norwich hotels were regularly used by young people from across Norfolk who head into Norwich to go clubbing at the weekends and by builders and other workers during the week. He said they are constantly full.
Hotel review website Trip Advisor contains dozens of highly critical reviews of the Norwich properties.
A spokesman for Norwich City Council said: “Following complaints from the general public we have adopted a multi-agency approach in dealing with these issues, making every effort in working with Mr Burlingham to resolve them.
“These are being addressed both individually and collectively by the various enforcement agencies involved, including the council’s public protection and health and safety teams as well as the police and fire service.”
Mr Burlingham criticised the council, saying they had failed to give him a clear definition of what constituted anti-social behaviour in a hotel.
He said: “If I go to South Norfolk Council or Breckland Council, I can talk to a liaison officer who will give me guidance, but with Norwich City Council I just don’t know what they want.”
• Norfolk police said anyone with concerns about illegal sexual activity should contact them on 101 or contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
• Have you stayed at one of the properties? Call crime reporter Peter Walsh on 01603 772436 or email firstname.lastname@example.org