Suffolk

Steve Wright was my first 'punter', says ex sex worker

Jade Reynolds
Image caption Jade Reynolds started working as a prostitute in Ipswich after becoming addicted to heroin

Jade Reynolds vividly remembers the first time she went out on to the streets of Ipswich as a sex worker.

Her first "punter" was Steve Wright, the man who eight years later became a serial killer as he murdered five of her friends over a six-week period.

A heroin addict by the age of 17, she had decided selling her body would be an "easy way" to pay for her habit.

As she waited on a street corner in Ipswich's red light district in the winter of 1998, it was not long before she was approached by Wright.

They agreed a price of £40 for sex and went to a nearby riverside spot.

"He wasn't rude or aggressive to me," she said. "He was a normal punter."

It was only eight years later, following the murder of five of her friends in Ipswich, that she thought back to that night.

'Alone and lost'

News had broken in December 2006 that Wright was being questioned over the killings in the Suffolk town.

"I was told by a journalist that Steve Wright was the man who had been arrested and I instantly remembered that he was my first punter," she said.

"I couldn't quite believe it. I hadn't really thought any more about it, to be honest. He wasn't a regular of mine or anything. I think I went with him about six times in all."

Wright was convicted of murdering Gemma Adams, 25, Tania Nicol, 19, Anneli Alderton, 24, Paula Clennell, 24, and Annette Nicholls, 29, following a trial at Ipswich Crown Court.

But by the time he was handed a whole life sentence in February 2008, Miss Reynolds was already on the way to rebuilding her life.

The murders of the five women, including her close friend Miss Nicholls, had given her a new determination to beat her addiction and get off the streets.

Image caption Ipswich's prostitution strategy was prompted by the murders of five women by Steve Wright

"I felt alone and lost when Annette was murdered," she said. "The one person I had been able to talk to about my problems wasn't here.

"I just decided that was it. I couldn't live like that anymore, squatting and doing drugs.

"It scared me knowing how close to death I had come."

In 2007, the Suffolk Prostitution and Sexual Exploitation Strategy was started, aimed at targeting kerb crawlers and helping women involved in the sex trade.

Miss Reynolds, who lives in south-west Ipswich, was among the first to receive help.

'Normal life'

"They helped me with appointments, care plans, benefits claims, my housing, all things like that," she said.

"I was in a rat-infested flat for a while and they found me somewhere else. It was all the type of help that I never had before."

After spending time in rehabilitation, Miss Reynolds worked hard to beat her addiction.

She was supported by the multi-agency Make A Change team, a partnership involving councils, police, probation services, health workers and the border agency.

"Without Make A Change I'd probably still be in the gutter in all fairness," she said.

"I think my addiction may have got the better of me. If I hadn't have had the police and the Make A Change team I could easily have been one of Steve Wright's victims."

Miss Reynolds, 29, said she was now determined to pass on her experience to help others.

She helps her local neighbourhood police team on a voluntary basis and supports others suffering from addictions.

She also recently spoke to students at her former school in Ipswich.

"I gave a talk about my experiences and it seemed to go well," she said.

"I wouldn't wish prostitution or heroin on anyone. I lost five of my friends because of it."

Image caption Five women who worked in Ipswich's red light district were murdered in 2006

Miss Reynolds said she had become hooked after initially "dabbling" with drugs - and it is a trap she does not want other people to fall into.

She spent eight years working the streets of Ipswich and was arrested about 10 times for the offence.

"I decided prostitution was an easy way to go," she said.

"I was already sexually active and thought 'why not get paid for it?'

"If you'd have told me in 2006 that I would be working with the police six years later I would've said that's not possible.

"I can now live a normal life, pay my bills. I pay my television licence. I cook meals for my friends.

"I've now got the rest of my life ahead of me and the world is my oyster."

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