Edinburgh sauna raids: Mistreatment claims made

POLICE are investigating six complaints that sex workers were subjected to “degrading” treatment when officers raided saunas.

Police leave the London Street Sauna after the raid. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

One woman alleges she was strip-searched with a male officer present during the June raids on saunas in Edinburgh.

Sex workers also claim that confiscated property, including thousands of pounds in cash, have not been returned.

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The six – only one of whom was subsequently charged – say they were not shown search warrants and were held for hours without being given food or water.

The controversial crackdown on sex in Edinburgh’s saunas involved more than 150 officers in the first raids on seven premises. The remaining six saunas were raided a few days later.

Seven individuals face 15 charges of brothel-keeping and living off immoral earnings.

Six saunas face permanent closure from October unless they win their appeals against having their licences suspended.

But Police Scotland has confirmed that it is investigating six formal complaints from sex workers caught up in the raid.

One woman, in a written statement to investigators, said a male officer barged into a room while she was being strip-searched by female officers.

She said: “When I was standing in this embarrassing position, completely naked, a male officer pushed the room’s door and walked in.

“Straightaway, I tried to cover myself up and covered my breasts with my arms.

“He never apologised or said why he was there – he just continued his conversation with the female officers.”

The woman, who has not been charged, added: “I felt so violated. I didn’t have a choice. When the police tell you to do something, you do it, but this was for absolutely nothing. They did not find anything on me as I was not doing anything wrong.”

Laura Lee, who campaigns for sex workers’ rights said: “If a strip search of this kind was carried out in a person’s home and was interrupted by a male officer, there would be a massive outrage.

“But because this woman works in a sauna, it’s been deemed okay by the police. This isn’t about sex-worker rights any more, this is about human rights.”

Another worker claimed in her written statement that officers refused to show her a warrant during the raids and she was told to “sit down, shut up and wait to be interviewed”. She said: “When I asked for food or juice, because I hadn’t had anything yet that day, I was flat-out refused.

“They wouldn’t even let us step outside for a cigarette.

“They seized my phone and to this day have still not given it back despite [my continuing to pay] my contract on it. When I asked the officer when I would get it back, he said, ‘How long is a piece of string?’. No receipt was given, either, and when I went to Fettes [HQ] they didn’t have a clue, indicating that this was not planned by the Edinburgh division.”

Another sauna worker said she was left in a state of fear.

“They just about took the door off its hinges,” she said, adding that the officers were “screaming and shouting at the top of their voices, putting me in a state of fear and alarm”.

She added when she asked for something to eat, as she had not eaten all day, the officer said: “I haven’t eaten, either.”

Independent MSP Margo Macdonald said: “The previous Lothian and Borders police division had a good working relationship with the city saunas. But that has been destroyed since the raids.”

Calling for more women to come forward with their accounts of the raids, she added: “Once that has happened, we will then be able to see if a new set of policing guidelines needs to be drawn up, in terms of police handling during raids.”

A Police Scotland spokesman said: “Officers and other agency representatives were provided with extensive briefings on appropriate behaviour while within these venues.

“As of Monday 19 August, police have received six complaints relating to this operation and these will now be progressed by our Professional Standards Department.”