A police operation in an area where a sex worker was murdered is putting women’s lives at risk, it is claimed.

Redbridge Police launched Operation Clearlight in the Ilford Lane area in September 2012 and sex worker Mariana Popa was stabbed to death 13 month later.

Georgina Perry, manager of NHS sex workers support project Open Doors, says prostitutes work together to ensure they are safe and the police clampdown makes women more vulnerable.

According to reports, Miss Popa was working to pay off a fine for soliciting issued during the clampdown and operating alone.

Miss Perry said: “We were down there last night and the women were telling me they look out for each other.

“They work in groups of three to five women and take down number plates of clients.

“When customers approach them for business, they take the women in their car to a side street where the other sex workers can see them.

“They have set up a robust and sturdy system between themselves. What police enforcement is doing is stopping these women working in groups as they are easier to spot.”

“Obviously whoever killed Miss Popa is directly to blame for her death, but police enforcement did not help her and will not help the issue to go away.

“People in this country don’t want to talk about the issue and just want it stamped out. The most important thing is maintaining the safety of these women.

"They are running around hiding from police."

Two senior police officers have also criticised the current approach to enforcement.

Chris Armitt, the national police lead on prostitution in England and Wales, told the national Guardian: "We are not going to enforce our way out of this problem. It simply won't work.

“I feel it would be good to allow a small group of women to work together, otherwise it creates a situation where they are working away from other human support."

Martin Hewitt, the lead for adult sexual offences at the Association of Chief Police Officers, has said the legislation being used is outdated and called for a change of approach.

But Superintendant Ellie O’Connor, of Redbridge Police, said the operation will continue despite criticism.

She said: “The operation has not endangered the workers, it seeks to reduce the number of kerb crawlers and make it uneconomical for the workers.

“The operation seeks to make the environment more hostile [for customers]. It also seeks to provide extra support for the sex workers themselves and help them change their lifestyle and advise them on things like their health and wellbeing.

“It is not a quick fix and the community are saying they do not want it to stop.

“The operation is constantly reviewed and we have no intention of stopping it.”

Monica Abdala, of Redbridge Street Pastors, works closely with the police on the operation.

She said: “We work with the police to ensure the women are safe. The operation is not endangering these women’s lives.

“The police had nothing to do with the death of Mariana.”

Since September, eight women have been arrested under Operation Clearlight on suspicion of soliciting, while a total of 17 men suspected of kerb crawling have been arrested.

Of those seven have been charged and are due to appear at Barkingside Magistrates’ Court on Friday.

Farooq Shah, 20, of Station Road, Forest Gate, has been charged with the murder of Mariana Popa.