Edinburgh saunas to close with sex trade crack down

PIC PHIL WILKINSON.TSPL / JOHNSTON PRESS''LONDON STREET SAUNA , EDINBURGH. 'POLICE  LEAVE THE SAUNA TODAY AFTER SPENDING OVER AN HOUR AT THE PREMISES.
PIC PHIL WILKINSON.TSPL / JOHNSTON PRESS''LONDON STREET SAUNA , EDINBURGH. 'POLICE LEAVE THE SAUNA TODAY AFTER SPENDING OVER AN HOUR AT THE PREMISES.
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ALMOST half the saunas in Edinburgh will be forced to close their doors after having their licences suspended.

Six of the 13 saunas in the capital will have to wind up operations over the next month after a decision by the city council.

Police Scotland had submitted evidence to its regulatory committee which claimed the premises had breached the terms of their licences.

Seven people linked to the saunas have already been charged over allegations that sex was for sale on their premises.

The suspensions come after Scotland’s new single police force raided seven saunas and 11 other addresses in the city on 7 June, in Operation Windermere.

Following the private hearings on the licences, Councillor Gavin Barrie, convener of the council’s regulatory committee, said: “We have considered a request from Police Scotland and decided to suspend six public entertainment licences. As with all licence suspensions, there is a right to appeal within 28 days to have the decision overturned.”

Edinburgh is the only local authority in Scotland which has issued public entertainment licences to saunas since the 1980s. Owners are not asked in detail about the nature of their operations when they apply. In contrast, Glasgow has a zero-tolerance policy and police regularly raid suspected premises.

Independent Lothians MSP Margo MacDonald told The Scotsman: “Zero tolerance policing doesn’t work. It is not possible to abolish prostitution – no country has done so – and the system we have in Edinburgh is imaginative and pragmatic”.

“If we have Glasgow-style policing it will drive the trade underground. You cannot go and inspect premises if you don’t know where they are, and I fear the first the police often know of premises is when a crime of violence has been carried out.”

Ms MacDonald also raised concerns about the way in which the raids in early June were carried out. The MSP said: “No-one can have any objection to the police carrying out legitimate inspections, however, I and others have concerns about the way it was handled. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say the police spread fear and alarm.”

Scot-Pep, the charity set up to protect the health of prostitutes, said it was “very concerned” by the raids, which were carried out by 150 officers last month.

It also questioned whether it had been intended to “instil fear amongst sex workers”.

Joanna Mowat, a Conservative city centre councillor, added: “We do need to explore this issue as it appears there has been a shift in policing since the introduction of the single force.”

A Police Scotland spokesman said: “Police Scotland is committed to keeping people safe, and we will continue to work alongside partner agencies and license holders to achieve this aim.”

The saunas which will have to close have not been made public, but council sources say they are: Scorpio Leisure; The New Gentle Touch; Paradise Sauna; New Town Sauna; Blair Street Sauna; and Dundas Street Sauna.