POLICE Scotland immediately targeted the saunas in the capital after being formed three years ago, but the deal has caused charges to be dropped.
A secret deal allowing sauna owners to sell sex legally has forced police to ditch a high-profile purge of the vice trade.
Police Scotland targeted Edinburgh saunas within weeks of the country’s new single force being introduced three years ago.
But vice charges against bosses arrested in a wave of raids on the the capital’s sex-for-sale premises were quietly dropped.
Doors open at this sauna
The Sunday Mail can now reveal that a 30-year-old document was behind the collapse of then chief constable Sir Stephen House’s planned crackdown.
The paper was signed by politicians, police and a senior Crown Office official in 1986 amid
fears the city would be devastated by an Aids epidemic.
The rate of HIV infection among heroin addicts in the city had soared and many female users sold sex to feed their habit.
Lothian & Borders Police, Edinburgh Council and NHS officials agreed saunas could have
prostitutes on the premises on the basis that they promoted safe sex and supplied condoms.
The existence of the deal was confirmed after one of the sauna owners arrested in the crackdown – codenamed Operation Windermere – asked his lawyers to check on the status of the policy.
Crown Office chiefs are understood to have been stunned to find the policy had never been
Another sauna open
Sheriff Kenneth Maciver, also a temporary judge, acknowledged the agreement when he was interviewed by the legal team working on behalf of the sauna boss.
He was a procurator fiscal at the time the document was drawn up.
As a result, the decision was taken last year to drop all charges against 11 men and women, allowing the saunas to carry on as before.
The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) yesterday confirmed the existence of the no-prosecution policy.
A spokeswoman said:
“New information came to light about the then procurator fiscal’s knowledge of the public health measures adopted in Edinburgh by the local authority, health bodies and Lothian and Borders Police to minimise the impact of prostitution. Crown counsel decided it was not in the public interest to continue with those prosecutions. Steps have been taken to ensure this issue does not prevent future prosecutions. Prosecutors are committed to the robust investigation and prosecution of those involved in the organisation of prostitution and will use every tool available to them to hold perpetrators to account.”
A source said last night:
“The emergence of this document has been a complete game changer. Its origins had become slightly lost and no one had been certain as to its existence. One of the sauna owners who was arrested asked his lawyers to look into it and they eventually found someone involved in the deal. Sheriff Maciver said he signed the document which gave all the saunas a pass. It clearly stated no prosecution would take place if sex was found to be taking place in a sauna. All they had to do was apply for a licence and make sure safe sex was promoted. The police, local authority and health board were worried about the spread of Aids and thought this was a good way of countering it. The arrangement worked well until 2013 when the new chief constable decided to target saunas in Edinburgh and close them down. Until then the saunas were only subjected to the normal licensing inspections. Many of Edinburgh’s saunas have effectively operated as brothels for decades.”
Former police chief Stephen House
Police Scotland said yesterday:
“There were reports to the procurator fiscal at the time. In relation to the decision made not to prosecute, that’s not a matter for Police Scotland to comment on.”
One owner who had charges dropped was 73-year-old Ian Haig, who runs Scorpio in Albion
Street. He declined to comment yesterday. But a sauna source said:
”Ian did not get involved in the sauna business until later. Whoever knew about the document was probably in saunas in the 1980s, when there were fewer. I know lawyers for owners have been trying to track down this document. The former fiscal confirmed what most people have always suspected – that the police turned a blind eye.”
Many of the saunas had their licences suspended following the raids. However most were able to remain open after lodging appeals.
Last night, Highland and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant insisted that steps must be taken to reverse the policy.
Grant, who has spent years campaigning for laws which make paying for sex illegal in Scotland, said she had been concerned when charges against the owners were dropped.
Labour MSP Rhoda Grant
The Labour MSP said:
“I’m disappointed if there were documents being used to stop
prosecutions and I would sincerely hope that steps are being taken to make sure that won’t be an influence again. I was aware that a policy existed but not a document. Hopefully that document will be superseded so that can never happen again. I can understand at the time it was about keeping people safe. It was probably done for all the right reasons. But the law is the law.”
Escort Laura Lee, 39, who campaigns for the rights of sex workers in Britain and Europe said:
“I would say it was a sensible evidence-based policy at the time. The lines of communication between police and sex workers were open but once Stephen House took over that was no longer the case. However, I am strongly of the belief that they’re trying to put that right.”
Saunas targeted included including Scorpio Leisure in Albion Street; London Street Sauna;
Ambassador Sauna in Lothian Road; No 18 Sauna in Albert Place; Steamworks in Boughton Market; Carol’s Sauna in Easter Road; Paradise Sauna in Roseburn Terace; New Gentle Touch in Argyle Place; New Town sauna and premises in Blair Street and Dundas Street.