City faces legal challenge over ‘brothel’ policy

THE Capital’s “blind eye” policy towards sex-for-sale saunas is facing a challenge in the courts.

A campaigner has pledged to appeal against every sauna licence granted by the city council.

Mike Anthony claims councillors have been breaking the law for years by approving saunas which are effectively operating as brothels.

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Earlier this week, he sought an interim interdict to stop the council granting any more licences. The bid for an immediate block on council approval for the city’s saunas failed, but the civil action will continue through the courts.

Mr Anthony said he would fight individual applications for renewal of the public entertainment licences as they came up.

There are around 15 licensed saunas in the Capital. Mr Anthony has lodged objections to 13 renewal applications which are due to be considered by councillors in the next few months. If the licences are granted, he can appeal against the decision to the sheriff court.

He said: “I’m going to appeal every sauna licence. So long as there are pimps running the saunas, this is just a licence for criminality.”

In 1995, mother-of-two Debra Scanlan won a court ruling that the council had broken the law by licensing a sauna near her home when there was evidence – partly provided by an Evening News investigation – that it was a front for a brothel. Mr Anthony said it was “plain good luck” for the council it had not been challenged again since.

The 59-year-old website producer said he had been prompted to take his legal action after comments made by Tory councillor Joanna Mowat at a hustings during the council elections earlier this year.

When a member of the audience asked about Edinburgh’s policy on saunas, Cllr Mowat confessed she felt “uncomfortable” about the way sauna licensing was handled.

Today, Cllr Mowat, who is no longer on the regulatory committee, said: “I still think we should be upfront about what we are doing, but at the end of the day we are not licensing brothels, we are licensing these places for the provision of sauna and 
massage services.”

Mr Anthony argued that since it was against the law to run or assist in running a brothel, councillors were committing a criminal offence.

A council spokesman said: “Premises which provide sauna facilities require a licence. As with any licensed premises, police and members of the public have the right to object to any application.”


City Centre Tory councillor Joanna Mowat spoke about her unease over the policy in April.

She said: “On the one hand we have pushed prostitution off the streets, but we are turning a blind eye to what is going on indoors.

“If we are going to tolerate the licensing of brothels, which is essentially what we do, perhaps we should license brothels. At the moment, there is an industry the council is complicit in, but it is not doing anything to support those working within it. I watch us clandestinely doing this, pretending we are licensing saunas and it’s all about water temperatures.”