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Edinburgh sauna owners’ ‘name and shame’ threat

The city's sauna bosses are hitting back. Picture: Getty

The city's sauna bosses are hitting back. Picture: Getty

  • by ALAN MCEWEN
 

SAUNA bosses are threatening to expose around 50 “well-known” ­public figures who paid for sex at their premises.

The owners have drawn up lists of clients, including police officers, ­council officials, lawyers and two “celebrities”, who they plan to name during a court case next month.

They have resorted to the name and shame tactic as they battle to save their industry.

But their threat has caused ­widespread consternation at City Chambers and Fettes Police HQ.

A council insider said: “There must be a lot of very worried people right now. Some in the council have argued very strongly in the past for a ­tolerance zone and others are now starting to ask why.”

A Police Scotland source said the topic is sure to have “unnerved” some officers.

“This has really set the cat among the pigeons, there’ll be a lot of worried people about,” one cop said.

Around 50 names are said to be on the list, which also includes a top sports figure and the relative of another sporting household name.

Sauna chiefs claim it proves double standards among public officials who have recently targeted their businesses in a clamp down. The owners were left furious by a string of police raids and the city council’s later 
decision to suspend the licences of six ­establishments.

Former sauna boss Peter Donoghue told the Evening News owners drawing up the lists believe “If we’re going down, we’re taking them down with us”.

Mr Donoghue, who represents the Paradise, Dundas Street and New Gentle Touch saunas, said: “I know that a number of the saunas have these lists. I was asked if we wanted to draw up a list but I said ‘no, that’s not the way I do business’. I don’t know the names, but I’m told there’s lots of them and some are very well-known.

“We have police officers and ­ex-police officers, who are usually widowed or are older in life, who come to us as regulars at our saunas.

“But we wouldn’t think of exposing these people.

“It’s wrong to go around exposing people, but others are worried about their businesses.” Mr Donoghue said the blitz against the saunas had left some owners angry and fearful of their futures.

He added: “If the licences are removed in court then other sauna owners know they will come for them next. They are drawing up lists as protection. In some ways, I don’t blame them for what they’re doing. They’ve been driven down by these people. They feel that ‘if we’re going down we’re taking them down with us’.

“They see it as their livelihood being attacked at a time when they are already struggling. It’s made it a whole new ball game.”

The saunas set to appeal against the licensing decision are the Paradise in Roseburn Terrace, The New Gentle Touch in Argyle Place, the Dundas Street Sauna, Scorpio Leisure, the Blair Street Sauna, and the New Town Sauna in Hart Street.

A representative from the Scorpio Leisure sauna in Albion Road, Leith, which also faces potential closure, said he was aware the tactic of “naming names” had been discussed by other owners, but they were not involved in drawing up the alleged list of shame.

A spokesman for Scorpio Leisure said: “We will only proceed on the advice of our lawyers. Naming clients, that is something that has never been discussed.

“I’m aware it has been discussed by others involved with saunas, but it’s not something we are taking any part in. Frankly, I would be astonished if it was to be mentioned in a civil case which is being heard over the merits of the council’s licensing decision. I fail to see that it would have 
influence whatsoever.” The sauna licences were suspended following the police raids in June, which saw seven people charged in connection with brothel keeping and living off immoral earnings. All six have appealed the decision and a hearing is set to be held at Edinburgh Sheriff Court next month.

It is understood that the list of ­clients would be presented in evidence at the court as part of an unusual legal strategy. Many of the saunas feature CCTV in their buildings although it is not known whether the list is linked to photographic evidence of clandestine visits.

A sauna industry insider, who asked not to be named, said they would attempt to put the “roll of shame” before the court.

The insider said it demonstrated that public bodies were not fit to act against saunas when some of their own employees paid for sex.

He said: “It’s all really hypocritical that they can use the girls for many years and then as soon as Police Scotland say so they’re suddenly condemning them. It’s double standards.

“Over the years we’ve had all kinds of official men coming into the saunas from councillors to police officers, most of them senior, and they’re well known by many.

“They would come in, pay the £10 to £20 desk fee before going into a room with a girl, just like everyone else. Now they’re telling us we can’t do this anymore, it’s ridiculous.”

The source added: “The councillors that have come in over the years are well known across the city and are easily recognisable. Now they’re trying to shut us down despite having used our services before. They’re hypocrites and it’s an injustice.

“The girls know who they are, the minders who look after the girls know who they are, and us owners know who they are – customers have even pointed them out before.”

But another council insider said the revelations were unlikely to bother many officials from the local authority.

The insider said: “To be honest, I would be surprised if there are any councillors on the list because we are a pretty straight-laced bunch. I can’t think of any I know to have visited saunas. Some of the examples may be historical I suppose, for people who were councillors years ago, but not now.

“The sauna owners better have some evidence if they are going to rely on this.”

Independent Lothians MSP Margo MacDonald called on the sauna chiefs not to follow through on their threat to name public officials who were ­clients.

She said: “I would urge the saunas owners not to go down this route.

“It may be they would be acting out of revenge rather than blackmail but it would very easily be construed as blackmail legally.

“They obviously believe that the people they are threatening to name are from the same group of people they blame for trying to shut down their businesses.

“They are really annoyed but this is not the way to go.”

Police Scotland and the city council both declined to comment.

A spokeswoman for the New Town Sauna said they were “not aware” of the threat. A spokesman for the Blair Street Sauna also did not wish to ­comment.

‘Media can report if names read out’

CAMPBELL Deane, a partner with legal firm Bannantyne Kirkwood France and Co, and an expert on defamation, offers his analysis on the threat to name the clients in court: “There is an argument that such a list of clients is of no relevance whatsoever to answering the legal test of whether these saunas should remain licensed.

“I imagine the basis of the appeal will be that the council erred in law by ruling the saunas should no longer have a licence. The identity of the clientele would have nothing to do with whether the council reached the right decision. This list would have no relevance, except as an exercise in muck-raking.

“A sheriff may rule the matter is irrelevant, but may wish to be addressed on it first. A problem may then arise if someone started reading out names. If the names are said in court they become reportable by the media.”

City’s distinct context ‘absolutely recognised’

THE police sauna raids, which began in June, seemed to signal an end to the city’s soft stance on the sex industry.

The move represented a radical shift from the typically pragmatic approach to prostitution which allowed saunas to operate to keep sex workers safer and off the streets.

Council bosses later suspended the licences of six saunas, a decision which the owners have appealed, and the matter will reach court next month.

The saunas were allowed to remain open for business while the appeal process was carried out. Sauna workers have spoken of their fears that the closure of the venues could leave them vulnerable to being raped or murdered if they are forced to work on the street or from private flats.

Last month we revealed nearly 300 women were selling sex from private flats in the city, according to just one website.

But Edinburgh police commander Chief Superintendent Mark Williams insisted the city’s distinct local context in the sex industry was “absolutely recognised” by Police Scotland.

He said officers visited saunas to check they were meeting the terms of their licences. The first raids, on June 7, involved 150 officers and targeted seven saunas.

SCANDALS THAT ROCKED CAPITAL

‘Gay conspiracy’ suspicion

SCANDAL rocked the legal establishment in the late 1980s when rumours and whispers suggested a “magic circle” of gay lawyers and judges were conspiring to ensure soft treatment for gay criminals.

The gossip grew on the back of police frustration at the outcome of a series of fraud and other cases, where officers felt defendants who happened to be gay had been unusually leniently treated. The claims led to an internal police investigation that identified people thought to be involved. When a break-in occurred at police HQ resulting in paperwork relating to the claims being stolen, fears grew that those named in the reports could be open to blackmail. An inquiry found no evidence of a “gay conspiracy” and criticised some police officers’ handling of the matter.

Sheriff quits over allegations

MUCH more recently Sheriff Andrew Lothian quit amid allegations about his private life, including claims he had visited Edinburgh saunas.

Police discovered Mr Lothian’s name as a customer of Carol’s Sauna on Easter Road while investigating a case.

A Sunday newspaper then claimed in 2008 he had visited the sauna where it was alleged he paid a prostitute £50 to whip him.

Mr Lothian, who quit at the age of 66 before the story broke, had been a sheriff since 1979 and could have continued until a normal retirement age of 70.

The legal eagle – who earned £125,000 a year – was also alleged to have been a regular at lap dancing bars.

Madam of Danube Street

Dora Noyce, with her fur coat, pearls and Tory posters in the windows at election time, seemed the epitome of a genteel lady.

But her Danube Street townhouse was a brothel with around 15 girls in permanent residence who would be joined by up to 25 others during busy periods. When the USS John F Kennedy docked at Leith the vessel offloaded hundreds of sex-starved sailors into the Capital and many headed straight to Dora’s front door. The queue for her girls’ services is said to have stretched all the way to Ann Street, much to the irritation of her well-heeled Stockbridge neighbours.

Dora, a former call girl, was charged more than 40 times with living on immoral earnings. Typically she would pay the fine on the spot. Her last prison term was in 1972, aged 71, for four months.

Lesbian claim rocks school

OVER a century earlier in 1809, the goings-on at a top girls’ school were also rocking polite society to its foundations.

The school in Drumsheugh Gardens was run by a Miss Marianne Woods and Miss Jane Pirie when rumours spread the pair were embroiled in a lesbian love affair. The school had been running for around a year, when, out of the blue, the allegations led to every single pupil being removed. At the time such a scandalous accusation rocked polite Edinburgh society to the core.

Miss Woods, 27, and the deeply religious, sometimes volatile 26-year-old Miss Pirie successfully argued in court that they had been libelled by the out-of-the blue claims, but only after ten years of legal wrangling that included lurid claims of child abuse, left them ruined

amcewen@edinburghnews.com

 
 
 

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