Sunday 23rd June 2024,
North Yorks Enquirer

Toms’* Lives Matter 2: Helen Sage

Police Misogyny

In the first article in the series Toms’ Lives Matter 1: “Hope”, Tim analysed the heartless refusal of North Yorkshire Police (NYP) to investigate the murder of an unknown woman -thought to be a prostitute- near Scarborough in 1979 who he has called “Hope”.

In this article he covers a development on the way most Forces in the British Police Service investigates prostitute murders and compares it to the way NYP and Greater Manchester Police (GMP) treat prostitute murders.

*Tim is originally from London. “Tom” is cockney riming slang for a prostitute, from Thomas More = Whore.

Toms’* Lives Matter 2: Helen Sage



Introduction: Misogyny in the Police Service

Misogyny is the hatred of, contempt for, or prejudice against women or girls. It can be practiced by women as well as men.

Historically the Police response to crimes of violence and sexual abuse against women and girls was to ignore it. In particular assaults on one group of acutely vulnerable people –sex workers were usually ignored. Even if they resulted in a murder, not much effort was put into investigating them. A classic example of misogyny.

Here I quote Mrs Theresa May when she was Home Secretary:

“I want to talk about one such issue in particular – the Police response to domestic abuse and vulnerable victims more widely.

Because for years the violence, rape and emotional abuse that takes place every day behind closed doors was simply not being taken seriously enough, and all too often treated as a ‘second class’ crime. Claims neglected and ignored, suffering dismissed, blame and recrimination cast back at victims, rather than those responsible. In many cases, brutal violence was downplayed as ‘just a domestic’ and too little was being done to protect victims.”

NYE Article covering this here.

In my view prostitute murders were ignored by the Police because:

  • The Police regarded violence as an occupational hazard arising from a lifestyle choice to be a prostitute. In this documentary on the Midlands Ripper Alun Kyte, Chief Constable Mick Creedon of Derbyshire Police – who as a Detective Superintendent led the successful cold case investigation into Kyte – laments attitudes to prostitute murders in the media, Police and the public, which was unsympathetic, because of this perception.
  • Prostitute murders were usually committed by strangers, which made them very much more difficult to successfully investigate. So there was a feeling within the Police Service that solving them was an impossible task and it was a waste of time investigating them further, once the initial lines of enquiry had been exhausted.
  • The relationship between the Police and prostitutes was adversarial, so prostitutes were reluctant to come forward to the Police with evidence, again making crimes against them more difficult to solve. A knock on effect of this was that it made the Police even more unsympathetic, regarding prostitutes that were victims of violence as a problem, not victims.
  • Prostitutes tended to be from lower socio-economic classes, were not articulate and their cases were not taken up by the media, their families or local politicians. So it was easier for the Police to ignore the crimes committed against them and move on to other investigations, which had a higher public profile and were easier to resolve.

The media was also equally unsympathetic and did not cover these crimes. This 2011 article from the Independent sums up the Police approach to prostitute murders very well: The prostitute murder mysteries

This started to change after the investigation into Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe in the 1970s, which was severely affected by these attitudes and misogyny more generally within the Police service.

Following Sutcliffe’s death in November 2020, Chief Constable John Robins of West Yorkshire Police apologised for the way that historically Police treated prostitutes that had been the victims of crime. His statement can be read here.

In my belief the Police service has improved its response to crimes against women including prostitutes since the Yorkshire Ripper investigation. However, there are still at least two Forces that will not investigate prostitute murders effectively. One of them is NYP and this was covered in the first article in this series: Toms’ Lives Matter 1: “Hope.  The other is Greater Manchester Police (GMP). To illustrate the point, I am focussing on the murder of Manchester sex worker Helen Sage.

The Murder of Helen Sage

Briefly, Helen Sage was a devoted single mother who supplemented her income with prostitution. She went out to work the streets in Manchester one night in August 1997, leaving her daughter with a neighbour and disappeared. Since then, there has been no trace of Helen Sage and no proof of life has been discovered.

The author has concluded she has been murdered and her body concealed, which in Police parlance is called a “no body murder” because:

  • There was no known reason for her to disappear.
  • Helen has been missing for twenty two years and no trace has ever been found of her.
  • Helen had no other way of earning money other than being a prostitute, yet has not come to the attention of the Police since her disappearance.
  • Helen was a devoted mother and abandoned her child. This is normally accepted as the key indicator of a “no body murder” of a woman.
  • Helen was a prostitute, an occupation that makes the victim more vulnerable and liable to violence.
  • The National Crime Agency (NCA) has confirmed there is no proof of life.

However, GMP has classified Helen Sage’s disappearance as a missing person, not a crime. Officially, this is because GMP will only declare a “no body murder” if there is physical evidence to show that a crime has been committed, so circumstantial evidence is ignored.

Detective Sergeant Clare Carr, from GMP’s Cold Case Unit, said:

“At the time of Helen’s disappearance a number of hypotheses were explored to establish what happened to her. 

As with cases of this nature, this is normal procedure to make sure that every outcome is considered to try and find that person. 

Helen’s disappearance is not currently being treated as murder as there has never been any physical evidence to suggest she was killed. 

Of course, if any new information came to light we would review this.”

In my view, this approach is perverse, because sex workers have to get into a car with an unknown man. It is therefore impossible to detect physical evidence of crime at the abduction point, because there is none. The crime occurs later in the car, or at the place where intercourse occurs. If the murderer conceals the body skilfully, there will be no physical evidence of a crime there either. Consequently, the victim will then remain a missing person indefinitely, unless the body is discovered, or the murderer is arrested in connection with another offence and confesses.

Clearly the absence of any physical evidence or a crime scene does not rule out the possibility of a “no body murder”. In my view it should not therefore be used as the sole elimination criteria. Imposing a requirement for physical evidence is an impossible barrier to surmount in some “no body murders” particularly if the victim is a sex worker.

No other Force in the UK I am aware of adopts this rigid definition. Some examples of Forces that have conducted successful “no body murders” when there was no physical evidence of a crime can be seen in this article Helen Sage: NYE vindicated.

Interestingly, Helen Sage is listed as murdered in the Wikipedia list of murdered sex workers in the United Kingdom.

So why has GMP adopted this intransigent and blatantly perverse position?

There are in my view five reasons for this and they apply equally to NYP’s response to the murder of “Hope”.

  1. Failure of effective supervision

In Manchester holding GMP Chief Constable Ian Pilling to account is the duty of Baroness Beverley Hughes. Greater Manchester’s Deputy Mayor for Policing, Crime, Criminal Justice and Fire who is responsible to Mr Andy Burnham the Mayor of Greater Manchester for the efficiency of GMP.

In North Yorkshire, holding Chief Constable Winward to account is the duty of the Police Fire and Crime Commissioner (PFCC) for North Yorkshire Mrs Julia Mulligan. Holding Mrs Mulligan to account is the duty of the North Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel (PCP).

When I raised the cases of “Hope” and Helen Sage with Baroness Hughes for GMP and PFCC Mulligan and the PCP for NYP:

PFCC Mulligan, the North Yorkshire PCP and Baroness Hughes all responded by refusing to comment on “Hope” or Helen’s cases by asserting it was an operational matter for Chief Constable Winward and Chief Constable Pilling that they could not intervene in. The role of the PFCC is to be the voice of the people and hold the Police to account. They are responsible for the totality of policing. Source: Association of Police & Crime Commissioners Given these matters relate to Force policy, efficiency and the accuracy of the crime figures, which are not operational matters, the conclusion is inescapable that their response was a cop out to evade their duty to face up to misconduct in their respective Forces.

When I continued to press PFCC Mulligan, her lawyer wrote to me thus:

In accordance with the Commissioner’s policy on unreasonable and unacceptable complainants and the IOPC statutory guidance on handling complaints, we are writing to advise you that the volume of your correspondence is excessive, unreasonably persistent and that (whilst some correspondence is appropriately raised with this office and the complaints team) the nature of your correspondence is often unreasonable, derogatory containing unsubstantiated allegations/assertions, or constitutes ineligible purported complaints. Your behaviour in corresponding in this manner is unacceptable due to the substantial impact that responding to you alone has on public resources.”

In short, the supervisory authorities in both Forces simply rubber stamped the Chief Constable’s position and failed to hold the Police to account. Thereby allowing serious crimes against women to be ignored and go unreported.

Normally, neither Chief Constable Winward or Chief Constable Pilling would dare refuse to record the murder of a woman as a crime. However, because both victims were prostitutes and their policy is perversely supported by the officials responsible for holding them to account, they can get away with it.

This represents a complete failure in supervision of both Chief Constables.

  1. Falsification of crime figures

No body murders” are notoriously difficult to resolve, because there is often no forensic evidence or crime scene. In the case of a prostitute murder this is doubly so, because they are usually stranger murders. So recording a prostitute murder as a crime will worsen the Force crime figures for unsolved murders, with very little realistic prospect of it being solved.

An inspection by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) recently concluded that GMP was failing to record 80,000 crimes a year. BBC report here. HMICFRS report here.

Specifically GMP:

    • Failed to record more than one in every five crimes reported by the public and more than one in every four violent crimes.
    • Did not record an estimated 80,100 crimes reported to it between 1 July 2019 and 30 June 2020. This amounts to approximately 220 crimes a day where victims may be denied the opportunity to get the justice they deserve.
    • Failed to record a high proportion of violent crime including domestic abuse and behavioural crimes, such as harassment, stalking and coercive controlling behaviour.
    • Failed to make sure all investigations were conducted effectively, with investigation plans not completed to an acceptable standard and no appropriate levels of review and supervision applied.

HMICFRS found multiple failures to record crimes since at least 2016. It is apparent that this situation has been going on for many years before. One of the violent crimes against vulnerable women that were not recorded is the murder of Helen Sage, which I reported to the GMP in 2019.

Given the circumstances of the case outlined above, the idea that GMP is unaware that Helen Sage has been murdered is preposterous. But nevertheless, it has preferred to record Helen Sage as a missing person, not a murder victim.

Likewise, NYP has recorded “Hope’s” death as a suspicious death, not a murder. It is also refusing to follow up on new evidence that would establish her identity so her family can be notified and possibly the circumstances of her death so she could be re-classified as a murder victim.

Chief Constable Lisa Winward of NYP

Refusing to follow up  new lines of enquiry generated by local media appeals in a prostitute murder.

This is convenient for the Chief Constables of both GMP and NYP; because it evades having undetected prostitute murders in the Force crime statistics and improves both the crime figures and the detection rates.

  1. Misogyny

When a murder occurs, the organisation responsible for securing justice for the victim and her family is the Police. This is a sacred duty on our Police service. It is unacceptable for Chief Constables’ to discriminate against victims by picking and choosing which crimes their Force will investigate based on their own personal attitudes and social prejudices of misogyny, racism, religion, nationality, politics, lifestyle, or socio economic class.

Helen Sage was a single mum that was going through hard times and paid for the upkeep of her child through prostitution. When I contacted the GMP Press Office and the Mayor’s Office and asked for a press comment, such is the lack of interest, that I received no comment from either GMP or Mr Burnham. Helen does not appear on the GMP website as a missing person, so GMP is not treating her disappearance as a “no body murder” or a missing person’s investigation. In “Hope’s” case Chief Constable Winward is refusing to follow up on witness evidence developed by the NYE.

In short, both cases have been ignored and buried because both victims were prostitutes.

This BBC article alleges that Police Scotland are ignoring the murder of Glasgow prostitute Emma Caldwell in 2005 and other attacks on prostitutes. “The women spoke of reporting rapes and attacks to the Police and said they were rarely believed. They said they felt silenced, as though their voices were worthless”.

It therefore saddens me very deeply that these misogynistic attitudes which deny victims their right to justice and endanger women’s lives still prevail in GMP and NYP. Solely for the convenience of the Police and keeping the crime statistics low. This is a betrayal of all women; because men that attack women often go on to attack other women. Each time an attack on a woman goes unpunished, it encourages them to commit other crimes against women.

I believe that “Hope” was probably murdered by Peter Sutcliffe, but I could be wrong in this. If so, her murderer could still be alive and may have committed other murders of women. Helen’s killer may also be free and may have gone on to murder other women. Yet GMP is not pursuing him.

The brave GMP whistle-blower Detective Constable (DC) Maggie Oliver, who exposed the unacceptable attitude of GMP to the Manchester grooming gangs, can be seen commenting on misogynistic attitudes within the Police here. This Channel 4 investigation shows how senior Officers in GMP ignored the murder of Victoria Agoglia and other girls that were being Forced into prostitution, based on the fact that they were from lower socio economic groups.

Interestingly, the former Chief Constable of NYP -Dave Jones- was Head of GMP CID at the time. His part in the grooming scandal was exposed in this Manchester Evening News (MEN) article. Chief Constable Jones has been accused of participating in a cover-up into the grooming scandal; MEN article here.

These attitudes seem to be embedded in some Forces. Chief Constable Jones’s successor as Chief Constable of NYP is a woman. However, this has not prevented her pursuing the same misogynistic policies of refusing to investigate crimes against some women that Chief Constable Jones is accused of pursuing as Head of GMP’s CID.

  1. Lack of empathy for victims of crime that are vulnerable, or from lower socio economic groups

Both “Hope” and Helen were victims of crime from lower socio economic groups. They were therefore vulnerable to having their cases ignored because they were not articulate or wealthy and had no known family ties. This made it easier for the Police to ignore their right to justice by refusing to record their murders as a crime, so they could focus on less serious crimes which improved the Force crime statistics.

Likewise, Greater Manchester Police ignored victims of the grooming scandal, because they were children from lower socio economic families, who could not challenge the Police. Preferring instead to focus on “acquisitive crime” (street robberies, car theft burglaries etc.), so their cases were simply ignored.

In March 2021, detectives from NYP started questioning local residents about Peter Jaconelli and Jimmy Savile. It is not known what these enquiries are in connection with. They may be part of Operation Manuka, the investigation into abuse at Throxenby Hall, or they may be to do with the mysterious disappearance of one of Jaconelli’s victims, or they may be to do with some other aspect of his offending.

The NYE wrote to Chief Constable Winward confirming it was in touch with some of Jaconelli’s victims and asking if she wanted us to put NYP in contact with them. Although the boys at Throxenby Hall and most of his victims were all from under-privileged backgrounds, they have a right to justice and help. Needless to say, Chief Constable Winward ignored this offer of help and did not respond.

Refusing to interview any of the victims is exactly the same policy NYP followed when it tried to cover up the Peter Jaconelli and Jimmy Savile paedophile ring in Scarborough. NYP then claimed there was no evidence of any crime, to conceal misconduct and past mistakes by NYP and its predecessor Forces. It was only when the NYE and BBC ran a joint investigation that NYP admitted the truth, the victims were heard and received support and counselling.

PFCC Mulligan is the Association of Crime Commissioners (ACC) lead spokesperson for victims and its strategy for Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG). In both this capacity and as PFCC for North Yorkshire she has held herself out as a champion of victims’ rights.

Police, Fire & Crime Commissioner Julia Mulligan

Association of Crime Commissioners (ACC) lead spokesperson for victims’, calling for a comprehensive VAWG strategy that excludes prostitutes.

In my view a comprehensive strategy for combatting VAWG should include investigating murders of women, whatever their lifestyle or socio economic class. Yet PFCC Mulligan has resolutely refused to intervene in Hope’s case, or even comment on it. Thereby acquiescing to it being ignored by Chief Constable Winward.

  1. Bureaucratic intransigence

Neither GMP nor NYP will accept any form of criticism or dissent.

When I wrote to GMP asking for Helen Sage’s case to be reviewed and classified as a murder, GMP refused to re-consider its position or review the case. It insisted that Helen Sage was missing -not murdered. When I challenged this, the GMP Press Office responded:

we will not be drawn further on this matter.”

DC Maggie Oliver resigned from GMP over the way it treated victims. She is quoted in this BBC article confirming that she had a meeting with Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham in 2018 to highlight “serious concerns” and she was “treated with contempt“. She alleged there is a “culture of arrogance and cover-ups” in GMP and a “radical overhaul” was needed. (NYE coverage of Maggie Oliver and the Manchester grooming scandal here.)

DC Oliver can be seen being interviewed here stating that nothing has changed in GMP since its catastrophic failure in the grooming scandals. In this BBC article, Mr Burnham himself confirmed that a major part of the problem with GMP’s crime recording was its defensive culture. My own experience with GMP is the same. It has simply refused to consider any criticism or acknowledge any failings.

When I wrote to Chief Constable Winward raising my concerns over “Hope’s” case, she responded “your frequent correspondence on matters relating to investigations distracts from the investigations themselves, wastes Police time”.

The response of both Forces to the author’s concerns can only be described as arrogant, intransigent and perverse. Worse, it endangers women’s lives.

Summary: The principles at stake and a wider concern

Some will argue it was all a long time ago and prostitutes have to accept the risk of the lifestyle they lead. I disagree and would argue that:

  • No one deserves to be murdered and in a civilised and humane society, everyone is entitled to the protection of the Queen’s Peace, no matter what their lifestyle or socio-economic class. Essentially the position taken by Chief Constable Robins above.
  • Men who are violent towards women must know that their attacks will be investigated relentlessly, to deter them from committing other attacks. Failure to investigate prostitute murders simply puts other women at risk.
  • Misogyny still affects the way the Police investigate serious crime article here and the media has a duty to oppose it, so we have an efficient Police Force and a safer society.

In this article I have only covered two historical cases, but there could be others.

The truly frightening wider concern is that there could be many other cases of women the Police have classified as missing, who in fact have been murdered and the killers are still at large and free to do further violence to women.

NYP Chief Constable Winward, PFCC Mulligan, Councillor Carl Les, GMP Chief Constable Pilling, Mayor of Manchester Andy Burnham and Deputy Mayor Baroness Hughes all received a draft copy of the article and were invited to comment. Such is their lack of concern at this appalling prospect that none of them bothered to respond. Further evidence that misogyny is alive and well in NYP and GMP.

The response of both GMP and NYP to this issue is a disgrace and typical of the attitude condemned by Chief Constable Robins and Chief Constable Creedon above. It represents everything that was wrong about policing in the past. Both GMP and NYP are in need of radical overhaul, which the current leadership is obviously incapable of delivering.

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