Police move to close six Edinburgh saunas

Under threat: The New Gentle Touch is believed to be among those facing closure. Picture: Dan Phillips
Under threat: The New Gentle Touch is believed to be among those facing closure. Picture: Dan Phillips
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ALMOST half of Edinburgh’s saunas could be ordered to close after police referred six premises to licensing bosses over sex-for-sale allegations.

Councillors will next week consider a dossier of evidence gathered by police in support of their request for the premises to have their licences suspended.

It follows two waves of raids on saunas in the Capital last month.

Seven individuals linked to the saunas have been arrested and charged in connection with brothel keeping and living off immoral earnings.

Edinburgh currently has 13 licensed saunas.

Those charged are understood to include Ian Haig of Scorpio Leisure in Albion Road; Jayne Donoghue of The New Gentle Touch, Argyle Place; Kelly Potter of Paradise Sauna, Roseburn Terrace; and Ivan Cameron of the New Town Sauna in Hart Street.

The New Town Sauna saw an emergency suspension of its public entertainment licence at the time of last month’s raids, but when police asked the city council’s regulatory committee to make the suspension permanent, councillors refused and instead ordered a full hearing, allowing the premises to reopen in the interim.

The first raids on June 7, involving 150 officers and targeting seven saunas across the city, resulted in three people being arrested for drugs offences and police said they had found evidence of human trafficking.

Further similar raids took place five days later as part of what the police have christened Operation Windermere.

The raids sparked fears that the creation of a new single Scotland-wide police force had led to a move away from Edinburgh’s well-established pragmatic approach to prostitution, but police chiefs repeatedly denied any policy change.

Today, independent Lothian MSP Margo MacDonald repeated her warning that Edinburgh should not adopt the “Glasgow rules” of zero tolerance towards prostitution, but said: “If the police are prosecuting the law in the interests of the community then no-one can have any objection.”

Police said seven individuals were facing a total of 15 charges.

They said the committee meeting on Wednesday – which will discuss the saunas in private – would receive a full dossier of all the police evidence and the charges against the individuals.

A spokesman said: “It’s an opportunity for the committee to see the evidence we have accumulated through Operation Windermere.

“We hope the evidence we have provided is strong enough to show the committee the concerns we have raised are legitimate and where we believe there is contravention of licensing conditions that is valid.

“It will then be up to council to decide what action to take on that.”

A council spokeswoman said: “Following a request from Police Scotland, the regulatory committee will consider the possible suspension of six licences on Wednesday.

Pragmatic approach to prostitution

EDINBURGH has traditionally taken a pragmatic approach to prostitution, partly on the grounds that it is safer for sex workers to operate in licensed premises than out on the streets.

When a court ruled in 1995 that there was evidence one city sauna was a front for a brothel and the council had broken the law by licensing it, it was hailed as the death knell for the policy. But little changed.

At an election meeting last year, City Centre Tory Joanna Mowat spoke of how she felt “uncomfortable” about being on a committee which “turns a blind eye” to the city’s sex industry.

Merging Scotland’s eight police forces into one led to fears that Strathclyde’s hard-line approach would be applied across the whole country. Critics saw last month’s raids as confirmation of their worst fears.

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