Pals mourn sex worker Laura Lee, who fought to quash Northern Ireland prostitution law
The campaign started by sex worker Laura Lee will go on despite her passing, her legal team vowed last night.
Ms Lee (39) had been due to start a legal challenge at Belfast High Court to a new Northern Ireland law which makes it illegal to pay for sex.
Her passing was announced on Facebook by a family member who spoke of their devastation.
The post was responded to with scores of messages from friends expressing their shock and sadness.
Several of Ms Lee's friends last night changed their social media profile pictures of images of her in her memory.
The cause of her death on Wednesday morning was not known last night.
Ms Lee's solicitor Ciaran Moynagh told the Belfast Telegraph last night that he will continue her work.
"We are deeply saddened by the death of our client Laura Lee," he said.
"Laura courageously fronted a campaign and judicial review which sought to defend and protect thousands of sex workers who do not have a voice.
"In the face of much opposition she maintained great dignity.
"Laura Lee will be remembered as one of this country's most fearless human rights advocates and we are committed to continuing her work."
PUP councillor Julie-Anne Corr Johnston last night said she was shocked by the news of Ms Lee's sudden death.
"As an acquaintance and an admirer I'm both shocked and saddened by the news," she said.
"A formidable woman, Laura Lee will be remembered for her determination to stand for what was right, what was just, even if it meant standing alone.
"My thoughts are with her daughter, family and friends now and in the difficult days to come."
Ms Lee was born in Dublin and was a law graduate. She was well known across the UK for speaking out for those that work in the sex industry, and highlighting the dangers those workers can face.
However, she was best known in Northern Ireland after taking judicial review proceedings in a bid to quash legislation making it illegal for men to pay for sex.
Ms Lee took the step following a law that was brought into Northern Ireland after being championed by DUP peer and MLA Lord Morrow.
Northern Ireland is currently the only UK region to make the purchase of sex a criminal offence.
She crowdfunded more than £7,000 from clients, other sex workers and friends to secure a judicial review, aiming to get the legislation repealed.
Although the law shifts the burden from prostitutes to their clients, sex workers believe it could leave them more vulnerable to violence.
They fear it will drive the trade underground and expose them to increased danger by making it increasingly difficult to screen customers who may use fake names and disposable phones.
Ms Lee's legal team have argued that the amendments to the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act breach her human rights entitlements to privacy and freedom from discrimination. They also allege a failure to comply with equality law.
The first hearing at Belfast High Court is due to take place later this year.