Legacy of fear in red-light district

JOELLE DALLY
Last updated 05:00 12/03/2014
Mellory Manning
KIRK HARGREAVES/ Fairfax NZ
NOT FORGOTTEN: New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective regional co-ordinator Anna Reed with framed photos of murdered sex workers Susie Sutherland, left, Mellory Manning and a third victim who has permanent name suppression. The photos hold a prominent place in the collective’s Christchurch office.

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Gang members, territories, standover tactics, drugs and violence - this was the world that sex workers like Mellory Manning once entered every night in Christchurch's red-light district.

While the Mongrel Mob disappeared from Manchester St after the quakes, recent attacks on two prostitutes have again shattered what was a sense of safety on the streets.

Chilling insights into the Manchester St scene emerged during a just-concluded High Court murder trial, after which Mauha Huatahi Fawcett was found guilty of Manning's December 2008 killing.

At the time, the Mongrel Mob was vying for control of Manchester St.

The gang had set up territory at the Oxford St bridge on Manchester St, which they called "The Four Aves", where they minded their own girls.

But they also used standover tactics to "tax" working girls for $20 a job.

Fawcett, a Mongrel Mob prospect, was apparently told by senior gang members they "owned the streets".

Street workers who tout for business on Manchester St today recall the Mob presence being "full-on" right up to the February 2011 earthquake.

One, who had been working on the street for about 30 years, said when Manning was killed, "I just knew those mobsters were behind it".

"They've pulled away at the moment, the Mongrel Mob. I haven't seen them since I've been back out since after the earthquake. They used to be really intimidating," she said.

"Those boys will still creep back around here - push their drugs on to [girls], them buying their drugs. Then before you know it, you're ticked up so much, you're in debt."

The Crown said Manning was murdered because of a drug debt she had with a patched Mongrel Mob member. She was the third Christchurch prostitute to be killed in three years.

In April 2005, South African Jules Patrick Burns strangled prostitute Suzie Sutherland and dumped her naked body in a vacant lot on Peterborough St.

In December 2005, Peter Steven Waihape killed a 24-year-old sex worker by repeatedly running her over in his car. The body of that victim, who has name suppression, was also dumped in the Avon River, just metres from where Manning's body was found.

Earlier this month, a sex worker was sexually assaulted on an empty section in Bealey Ave, between Manchester and Madras streets, about 3am. Two hours later, another prostitute was punched in the grounds of the St Mary's Pro-Cathedral, next to St Mary's School.

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Canterbury Prostitutes' Collective spokeswoman Anna Reed said to have three sex workers murdered in three years in the city made for an "appalling" legacy.

The spot where Manning was last seen alive became known as "the corner" after her death and many women left the street, Reed said.

"Suddenly people felt unsafe," she said.

Street workers became more aware of the crime cameras, and often stood where they would be filmed. People were also wiser about potentially dangerous clients.

The police presence had also increased.

The Mongrel Mob presence still returned from "time to time".

"Then they disappear and we assume they have gone back to jail," Reed said.

Another sex worker said the crime cameras had replaced the protection once offered by the Mongrel Mob.

"The mob can't dominate. No-one has territory because they can't. I will do what I want, where I want."

There were still fights, drug-selling and "dodgy people", so sex workers had to be "onto it".

She had no minder, but always kept a cellphone on her.

Another girl said Fawcett's trial had put clients off.

Her husband kept watch and they had a safety plan. She had never been bothered by the Mob.

"We're all just here to do a job and get on with it."

She said the standard rate was $40, $60, $80, $100 for different services.

"No other job is going to pay this amount of money. Some girls get wrapped up in drugs and dealing with the gangs for the drugs. I don't really get into it. I want to get set up for life."

Reed said the collective wanted more crime cameras installed. It also wanted to raise the status of street workers.

"People working on the street are just pursuing their occupation. They are not doing anything wrong," she said.

Reed attended Fawcett's trial to support Manning's mother, Sharon, and her partner.

She is "sure" others who had a hand in Manning's death will eventually be charged as "alliances and allegiances change".

- The Press

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