SHE was, in the words of Scots author Kirstin Innes, “a powerhouse, a formidable, vital, hilarious and angry star.” Dr Brooke Magnanti, the former call-girl blogger who came to fame as Belle de Jour, said “she put herself on the line in a way few have the guts to do.” Others described her as a “fierce warrior” for women. She appeared regularly in the pages of this newspaper fighting the corner of the most marginalised women in society - sex workers. She was Laura Lee - a brilliantly clever Irish woman who found an adoptive home in Scotland and made the choice to work in the sex industry. Last week, she died aged just 39.

Lee had been about to begin a legal challenge in Belfast High Court to a new Northern Ireland law which makes it illegal to pay for sex. Her lawyers said she had “courageously fronted a campaign and judicial review which sought to defend and protect thousands of sex workers who do not have a voice.” They are committed to continuing her work, they say.

Lee, a law graduate, was born in Dublin but lived in Glasgow - she tweeted on social media at GlasgaeLauraLee. After working as an escort from the age of 19, she was briefly tempted with promises of a well-paid banking job, but within months she had gone back to work in the sex industry. “Old habits die hard,” she told one interviewer, with a smile.

Her teenage daughter Cat broke the news of her mother's death on Twitter saying: “She asked me to let you all know that she was so grateful for everyone’s support. I ask you to continue all of your amazing campaign work in her honour.” She added: “I’m so proud of all my mum accomplished in her tragically short life … Much love and power to you all!” Miranda Kane, a sex worker-turned stand-up comedian, quickly launched a JustGiving appeal to help cover the funeral costs and provide financial support to her family. As of last Wednesday the campaign had raised almost £11,000.

Lee - who had campaigned all her adult life for the rights of sex workers - had turned her formidable sights on a law introduced by a Democratic Unionist Party peer, as her latest battle. She believed that Lord Morrow's law would drive prostitution further underground and expose sex workers to greater danger. Lee argued that criminalising her clients violated her right to work under European law.

In April 2017, Lee said that many men in Northern Ireland had stopped using their phones to arrange to meet escorts. “They are using hotel phones, for example, to contact sex workers in Belfast rather than leaving their personal mobiles. This means if one of them turns violent there is no longer any real traceability to help the police track such clients down. Men are doing this because they fear entrapment and arrest due to this law.”

She added: “So in a sense the law is actually putting sex workers at greater risk than before, when there was some ability to trace and track down any client that was violent and abusive. The law to protect women in the sex trade has done the opposite of what it was intended to do. Every escort I know working in Belfast now insists on working side by side with another woman for protection. The law has not in any way reduced demand and supply, which is still the same. It has only driven the business further underground.”

Lee had also attracted support from, amongst others, Amnesty International. The group’s Northern Ireland manager, Grainne Teggart, said they had major concerns about the Morrow law. “Sex workers are at heightened risk of a whole host of human rights abuses including rape, violence, extortion and discrimination,” she said.

Lee was also focusing on the Irish Republic, which had initiated a similar ban aimed at criminalising clients. “A win for us in Belfast will have a knock-on effect and set a precedent across Europe,” Lee said. “If successful up north there will be a challenge in Dublin and sex workers across Europe can use the precedent to overturn the so-called ‘Nordic model’ in their countries.”

Her lawyer Ciaran Moynagh said Lee had maintained “great dignity” in the “face of much opposition” and added: ”Laura Lee will be remembered as one of this country's most fearless human rights advocates and we are committed to continuing her work.”

Ireland’s Abortion Rights Campaign described her as a “massive supporter of our work and the fight for abortion access on the island of Ireland as well as a ferocious campaigner for bodily autonomy and sex workers’ rights.”

Commemorating the campaigner on social media, Magnanti posted links to a number of TV interviews with Laura Lee, one of them on STV’s Scotland Tonight with Labour MSP Rhoda Grant, in all of which she argued her case with passion and knowledge.

In a 2015 interview Lee spoke with affection of her clients. “I had one client who passed away from liver cancer last year, and I held him tight and asked him, ‘Are you scared?’ When he said 'yes', we both held each other and cried,” she said. “This work isn’t about swinging from the chandeliers or re-enacting Fifty Shades of Grey. For these men it’s about remembering how to hold a woman, how we smell, and how soft we are.”

"Sex workers are some of the strongest women you’ll meet in your life,” she added. “We have to be. It’s the nature of the job. Women are driven into work by poverty, and how we get those women out of work is to tackle poverty head-on, not banning sex work."