In Six Months This Bright Middle-Class Scholgirl Sank into the Seedy, Twightlight World of Teenage Prostitution. So Just Where Did It All Go Wrong?

Article excerpt

Byline: NICK HOPKINS

ONLY five miles separate the top of Sandwell Street and the detached house in Cherrington Drive where Lucy Burchell grew up. But the gulf between the addresses could not be greater.

Sandwell Street in Walsall lies in the middle of one of the bleakest, most wretched red-light areas in the Midlands.

By contrast, the Burchell family's home of 11 years is in a relatively affluent suburb of Great Wyrley , Staffordshire.

So when 16-year-old Lucy was found dumped and strangled in bushes next to a nightclub in Birmingham last week, people who knew her did not immediately make the connection.

Only later did it emerge that Lucy had, with frightening speed, descended into the murky world of vice. This was astonishing enough.

But what no one could to understand was why popular, intelligent Lucy - who dreamed of becoming a lawyer or journalist - had seemingly turned her back on the family who adored her for life as a prostitute.

How had a pupil regarded by her teachers as quiet and sensible been lured into a world of violence and sleaze? These are questions that her grieving parents, Graham, 48, and Christine, 43 - who tried everything to rescue their daughter - are asking again and again.

The answers, the Daily Mail has learned, will be deeply disturbing for every parent.

Lucy's story centres on that most potent of emotions, first love.

Disenchanted with her staid image, Lucy Burchell - like many adolescent girls - wanted to change.

What pushed her into such a dramatic transformation was her attachment to her only serious boyfriend, Pete. Tragically, he turned out to be a pimp.

And when Lucy, who had been working the streets for no more than ten weeks when she died, finally began to snap out of the spell, she wrote to her parents apologising for her behaviour. But it was too late. The evening she hoped would be her last as a hooker was probably the night she died.

To appreciate the horror of what happened to Lucy, you have to drive to the top of Sandwell Street. From the brow of the hill you can see Caldmore, where the roads ooze decay and are overlooked by rundown shops and battered council homes. People don't like living in Caldmore. They would move out if they could.

Only one activity thrives here - prostitution. At about 7pm every night the women and girls set about their business.

Some loiter in the alleyways, where it is easy to hide from the police cars which occasionally patrol the streets. others lurk in the shadows under the street lights. in requisite short skirts, tight tops and heels, most will not have to wait long. There are deserted industrial estates just a short drive from Caldmore where the deals and the deeds can be conducted in private.

On a good night some women will do the journey seven or eight times and earn up to [pounds sterling]200. On a bad night they might end up dead.

That night came for Lucy on August 15. She was last seen alive by the other girls near a phone box at the top of Sandwell Street outside the Dog And Partridge pub, a strip prized by every prostitute on the patch.

The punters liked Lucy. She had been a prostitute only since June and, unlike some of the women, was still fresh and pretty.

Deini Sheldon, a 23-year-old prostitute who knew Lucy well, said: `She was so bubbly. Everyone really liked her.

`I don't know if her parents knew but she was on the street every night.

She was only a kid.' Miss Sheldon, who has two young children, added: `She was only trying to earn some extra money like the rest of us.'

That might have been what Lucy told the other women, but it was not true.

Her lorry-driver father and her mother, a nursery nurse, worked hard to give her and brother Craig, 20, everything they wanted. They had promised Lucy a car and a horse for her 18th birthday. …