Remaining Edinburgh saunas face police action

The New Town Sauna on Hart St. Picture: TSPL
The New Town Sauna on Hart St. Picture: TSPL
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POLICE are to take action against the remaining sauna operators in Edinburgh after completing a sweep of premises which it is alleged are operated as sex-for-sale brothels.

Seven more licensed saunas have been examined by officers from Police Scotland, with reports on the findings sent to the city regulatory committee.

It came after Edinburgh City Council last week suspended the licences of the first six premises raided.

The capital is unique in Scotland in that it has handed out Public Entertainment Licences to saunas without asking for details as to the nature of their operations since the 1980s, in what advocates claim is the most effective system of managing prostitution.

Last month, about 150 officers along with social workers and health and safety investigators carried out raids in an apparent crackdown against such facilities.

It came just two months after the phasing out of Lothian and Borders Police and the formation of a single police force in Scotland.

Critics including Margo MacDonald, the Independent Lothians MSP and the sex workers’ charity ScotPep have claimed that there has been a shift towards “Glasgow-style” zero tolerance policing - which police chiefs have denied.

A police source confirmed all premises have since been visited by officers and further reports will be sent to the regulatory committee.

A Police Scotland spokesman also said this weekend: “The recent visits were based on local intelligence-gathering over several months and a continued commitment to ensuring premises adhere to their licensing conditions and are not putting the public at risk.”

It emerged as Peter Donoghue, who represented three saunas during the private committee hearing at the City Chambers last week, said that premises could get around licences being revoked.

“We’ve got 28 days to appeal but after that the appeal process could take a year. I would expect the three saunas to still be running a year from now”, he told an evening newspaper.

“If they refuse the appeal, we’ll turn them into sex therapists. We’re willing to fight all the way because this is not right.”

A council source also claimed that the crackdown on premises is part of a controversial shift which senior police officers are at odds over.

“There is probably a power struggle among the police themselves, between the ex-Strathclyde lot and the old Lothian and Borders people over whether this is a zero tolerance approach or a blind eye”, they said.

Seven people have been charged with 15 offences after Operation Windermere was initiated, including five with alleged brothel-keeping and living off immoral earnings.

The premises which had their licences suspended have not been officially named, but council sources have listed: Scorpio Leisure; The New Gentle Touch; Paradise Sauna; New Town Sauna; Blair Street Sauna; and Dundas Street Sauna.