Sex industry link to illegal Airbnb booking in Suffolk during lockdown

The Airbnb office. Picture: Open Grid Scheduler/Grid Engine / Flickr/Creative Commons

The property in Suffolk was let through the Airbnb service Picture: Open Grid Scheduler/Grid Engine / Flickr/Creative Commons - Credit: Archant

Police have issued advice to holiday cottage owners after a Suffolk couple believe they could have been duped into renting a holiday let illegally to a pair of women with links to the sex industry during lockdown.

We have been asked not to identify the couple - but Suffolk police confirm they had had a report about people illegally booking holiday cottages and had issued a warning to other holiday let operators and other police forces.

The couple own a holiday let near their own home in rural Suffolk and were contacted in January by a pair of women who asked about letting it through Airbnb.

Covid breach

When they were told that it was illegal to stay away from home during the lockdown, the women said they were moving to the area and needed somewhere to stay during the move - which the government sees as an exemption to the lockdown regulations.

The owners checked out the women's status on Airbnb and found they had used the service before and had some positive feedback - so decided to go ahead with the let.

Countryside off Searson's Lane, Trimley St Mary

The Suffolk countryside is likely to be popular for holidaymakers this year. - Credit: Archant

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On the first night of their visit there was a lot of noise from the cottage - and the owners thought they saw other people there as well as the guests who had booked.

The next day there was no sign of any activity there - but the the following night there was again a lot of noise and activity with other cars coming and going. Eventually they heard a car leaving at 4am.

During the Sunday the car the women had driven to the cottage in remained outside - and the couple had a call from their guests during the morning saying there was a problem with it and they would be back to collect it within an hour or two.

At 11pm a car did arrive back, someone got out and drove the car away.

Fields near Grundisburgh

Holidays in Suffolk might be more popular - but some people are trying to avoid the Covid regulations. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Extra Covid restrictions

Because of Covid restrictions, the couple were advised not to go in to clean the cottage for 48 hours - but when they did go in they found a serious mess.

The owner said: "There were several breakages including the television remote control and a door had been damaged. It really was in a state. We tried to track them down through their booking reference number."

Escort website link

That number provided a link to an escort site - and when the cottage owner clicked on that he recognised the two women who had stayed at his cottage.

When he told us about the site, we tried to look at it but our computer security software came up with the message: "Site blocked: pornographic content." The owner said the page he had seen had no pornographic content but he was not surprised to hear about the warning.

They found the owners of another property in Yorkshire had also had the women as guests under the same pretext - that they were in the process of moving home.

The owner had contacted Airbnb in an attempt to warn them and to try to get compensation for the damage that had been caused - but felt they were not doing enough.

He said: "To be honest we've always been happy working with Airbnb, we've never had a problem - and I appreciate these are difficult times for the industry.

"But clearly we're not the first to have had this problem with these people and we just don't feel that anything is being done about them."

He later said Airbnb had contacted them again and he was hoping to sort out the issue.

Halesworth police station

The rural crime team at Halesworth were told about the Covid breach. - Credit: Suffolk Constabulary

Police warning

They reported the incident to Suffolk police's rural crime section which is based in Halesworth because of the breach of Covid regulations.

The police said it was difficult to build a case unless the people were still staying at the holiday let - but issued a warning to other holiday let owners through their Facebook page.

They said: "If you own guest accommodation or are responsible for room bookings, please be mindful that ‘guests’ might try to circumvent Covid legislation by quoting legitimate exceptions to travel and staying overnight away from home in order to have a break or holiday.

"Be inquisitive and ask questions in addition to those normally required to determine as much information as you can before accepting the booking. If, once guests arrive, you suspect a Covid breach, use the Suffolk Constabulary dedicated reporting page."

A spokesman for Airbnb said they were speaking to the Suffolk hosts - and regretted there had been a delay in getting back to them.

The company had not been aware of any problems with these guests, who had not booked through Airbnb for more than a year previously.

He added: “We’re looking into this matter and whilst we haven't been able to verify the issue raised so far, we take these concerns seriously and will investigate before taking  appropriate action.”