Police ‘not targeting Edinburgh saunas’ says House

Sir Stephen House denied there has been a change in police attitude towards the city's saunas. Picture: Neil Hanna
Sir Stephen House denied there has been a change in police attitude towards the city's saunas. Picture: Neil Hanna
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Scotland’s top police officer has denied that Edinburgh’s saunas have been targeted by the country’s new single force.

Chief constable Sir Stephen House told MSPs he has “no issue” with the way Edinburgh City Council deals with the venues.

He insisted it is not the role of Police Scotland or his office to decide what a council’s policy on the sex trade should be.

Some critics have suggested that police swoops on saunas in the city this year signalled a move away from the capital’s historically more tolerant attitude towards the sex industry.

But Sir Stephen denied there has been a change in police attitude towards the city’s saunas.

Giving evidence to Holyrood’s Justice Sub-Committee on Policing, he said: “First of all, it is not the role of Police Scotland, and even less so the role of a chief constable, to decide for councils what their policy is on the sex trade...

“I have no issue with Edinburgh City Council’s approach to saunas - none at all.

“I didn’t come into office with a view of sorting this out, making everywhere like Glasgow, far from it. If councils want to operate a different system, they can.”

He was responding to a question on the “sauna saga” from committee convener Christine Grahame, who spoke of perceptions that there had been an “out of the blue” culture change in Edinburgh towards the licencing arrangements.

But the chief constable said: “There is a myth that Lothian and Borders Police, somehow colluding with the sauna policy of the council, didn’t bother doing licencing inspections. That is not true.”

Between April 2011 and April 2013, the month when the single force came into being, Lothian and Borders Police conducted 62 inspection visits and reported any contraventions to the sauna licencing committee, the chief constable told MSPs.

As far back as October 2009, 56 female workers were interviewed and a man was reported to the Crown for brothel-keeping charges, MSPs heard.

“I think there’s been a history from Lothian and Borders of interventions and reporting to the licencing committee,” the chief constable said.

Last week, the city’s authorities agreed to continue several sauna licences and revoke six.

Sir Stephen criticised recent portrayals of that decision as a “bloody nose for Police Scotland”.

“I have no personal view on that whatsoever,” he told MSPs.

“It’s entirely a matter for the licencing committee to do what they want to do in relation to how they want saunas to be run.

“But, if there is a licencing regime, and we have a role to keep people safe, we have to do licencing visits.”

Asked whether he objected to what saunas “are actually doing”, he replied: “No, I don’t object to it at all and Police Scotland doesn’t object to it. What we do is we carry out licencing visits.”

He went on: “We do not have a downer on the way Edinburgh City Council goes about its sauna policy. It doesn’t cause me a problem at all.

“But we will, whilst there is a licencing regime in place, carry out multi-agency licencing visits.”

Asked by Ms Grahame whether there had been “no change in the cultural attitude of local policing in Edinburgh towards saunas”, he replied: “Nothing I am responsible for or Police Scotland is responsible for. I don’t believe there has been a change.”