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Three men have been jailed for life for the murder of a masseur at his flat in London


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Three men have been jailed for life for the murder of a masseur at his flat in London. The gang of robbers targeted sex workers, picking them at random from "adult services" ads placed in Loot and Exchange & Mart, and using extreme violence.

Criminals have always preyed on the vulnerable, and sex workers are as vulnerable as they come.

Prostitutes know that every time they meet a client - who are basically complete strangers - they could be beaten, robbed, raped or even killed.

Twenty-nine-year-old Darren Johnson viewed sex workers as easy pickings.

He assumed they would be too ashamed of their occupation, or too worried by the consequences, to report the attacks to the police.

While prostitution is not in itself illegal, many sex workers do not wish to involve the police as awkward questions might be asked.

Some fear being asked if tax was being paid on their "immoral earnings", while others are in fear of their pimps or the immigration authorities.

Potential victims

In June 2004, Johnson, a hard-up clothing salesman from Battersea, south London, recruited two other men - Muhammed Nduka, 26, from Camberwell, and a 25-year-old who cannot be named for legal reasons - to join him in a series of forays.

Trawling through the adult services adverts in Loot and Exchange & Mart magazines, he spotted potential victims and rang them claiming to be a potential client.

After obtaining their addresses, he would arrive and trick or force his way in along with an accomplice.

Once inside, Johnson and his gang used a terrifying amount of violence on their victims to rob them of small amounts of cash, mobile phones, jewellery and credit cards.

Their first three victims - who had flats in the Regent's Park, Paddington and Fulham areas of London - were all women.

But on 15 July 2004, they changed tack and picked out a male masseur, who operated out of a flat in South Kensington.

Niphan Trikhana, who was from Thailand, was stabbed seven times and strangled with a ligature. He also had his little finger cut off.

Mr Trikhana's body was discovered by his landlord a week later.

The 32-year-old, better known as Nikki, came to Britain in 2001. He had only moved into the flat in Cranley Place 10 days before he was murdered.

Phone leads

Detective Inspector Bill Jephson was put on the case, and within a few days he had several positive leads.

He correctly guessed the killers did not know Mr Trikhana, had picked him at random and were motivated by robbery.

It's good that these men have been caught and brought to justice, but violent men go after sex workers because they are fairly confident that they will not be pursued

English Collective of Prostitutes

Det Insp Jephson checked who had rung the victims shortly before the

attacks, and noticed that a couple of mobile phone numbers cropped up more than once.

One of them led back to Johnson, and from then on the evidence against him and his accomplices just kept streaming in.

Several of the female victims gave evidence about their ordeal at the hands of the gang, and although Johnson and the others testified and desperately tried to explain away the phone evidence, on Tuesday the jury found them guilty.

Johnson, who was acquitted in 2000 of murdering a man in south London, was jailed for life on Wednesday and told he would have to serve a minimum of 35 years behind bars.

Nduka was given a minimum tariff of 22 years and the third man told he must serve 25 years in jail.

A fourth man, Thomas Girmay, 22, was convicted of one count of robbery and jailed for 11 years.

'Low priority'

A spokeswoman for English Collective of Prostitutes welcomed the convictions but claimed that police treated attacks on sex workers as a low priority.

She told the BBC News website: "It's good that these men have been caught and brought to justice, but violent men go after sex workers because they are fairly confident that they will not be pursued. Police prioritise prosecutions, and violent men know this."

She also claimed sex workers were being forced to work on the street - which is 10 times more dangerous than working in brothels - because of initiatives such as Operation Pentameter, which has targeted massage parlors nationwide.

"Police are raiding premises where women are working safely, claiming to be tackling human trafficking. But they have spent £500,000 on Pentameter and so far have only found 16 trafficked women. Most of those who were targeted were working perfectly legally."

But a spokeswoman for Operation Pentameter, said they had actually identified 84 trafficked women in 13 weeks, 12 of whom were under the age of 17.

She said: "Pentameter's stated aim was to identify and rescue trafficked women who are being forced to work as prostitutes against their will - beaten, systematically raped and falsely imprisoned. The feedback from the majority of willing sex workers who were in brothels where visits were conducted was positive - many seemed genuinely glad that the authorities were tackling the problem."

By Chris Summers

BBC News

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