Police get extra time to quiz murder suspect

LONDON Tue Dec 19, 2006 8:38am GMT

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LONDON (Reuters) - Detectives have been given more time to question a 37-year-old man over the murder of five prostitutes in Suffolk.

The man, who lives near the locations where the naked bodies of the dead women were discovered this month, was arrested on Monday morning.

A senior Suffolk police officer granted detectives an extra 12 hours to interview him. If police want more time, they will have to apply for a further extension from a magistrate.

The maximum that an individual can be detained before being charged or released in Britain is 96 hours.

Police have refused to name the individual in custody, but British media said it was supermarket worker Tom Stephens who was arrested at his home in the village of Trimley St. Martin, near Felixstowe.

Stephens' house in the village remains cordoned off and a white tent next to the entrance shields the view from curious onlookers and reporters.

Stephens gave a lengthy interview to the Sunday Mirror newspaper in which he said he feared he could be arrested as he had known all the prostitutes and had no alibis. But he strenuously denied any involvement in the deaths.

He told the BBC last week he paid for sex, "but I know that I also wanted to chat to the girl, before and after which is partly why I was always happy to give them a lift. They quite often want a lift to go and get their drugs."

Stephens has published pictures of himself on a personal Web site, where he calls himself "The Bishop" and lists his interests as "keeping fit" and "most types of day/night out".

The Suffolk investigation began on December 2 when 25-year-old Gemma Adams's body was found in a stream. Police discovered 19-year-old Tania Nicol's body in the same stream on December 8.

Anneli Alderton, 24, who was three months pregnant, was asphyxiated and Paula Clennell, 24, was killed by "compression to the neck", police said. Annette Nicholls, 29, was the fifth victim.

Sex workers have been urged to stay off the streets but some are ignoring warnings and still working, many to feed drug addictions. The five dead women were all drug users.

Prostitution is legal in Britain but advertising sexual services, streetwalking, brothels and kerb crawling -- driving slowly to ask women for sex -- are all against the law.

The case has sparked calls for better protection for prostitutes, or the legalisation of brothels so that women do not have to solicit for sex on the street.

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