SHE seemed the epitome of middle-class respectability, well-spoken and always impeccably dressed.
Now a pensioner, Margaret Paterson still has family links to the Ritz Hotel in Grosvenor Street, which her mother founded more than 50 years ago. It’s on the same plush street as the Hilton Hotel, and where two- bedroom flats can change hands for up to £300,000.
Just yards away, however, the 61-year-old had bought one of those plush flats with a very different business plan in mind.
It was a company where she would be known to all as “Trish” – a vice madam with a consuming passion to run the country’s biggest escort agency. The staff at Harvey Nichols and Louis Vuitton had no clue about this second identity, or its role in supplying the cash she lavished on luxury clothes and goods at their stores.
With her former partner Robert Munro – known as “Stuart” to both vice girls and clients – she expanded the business over nine years to cover much of Scotland.
Although the business empire was eventually left in tatters following a police investigation and their conviction yesterday, Paterson remains unrepentant, saying that they did nothing wrong.
The trial heard from prostitutes, clients and others linked to the sex industry who each spoke of their encounters with “Trish” and “Stuart”. No-one who gave evidence was aware of their true names until after the police swoop. Together, their testimony produced an intricate picture of how the massive sex-for-sale business was run in the Capital.
Little is known of their past relationship but it is clear the vice girls considered Munro the “second in command” while Paterson was considered the “boss” who made the big decisions.
Munro conducted the interviews of women applying to become escorts, completing questionnaires of their sexual “likes” and “dislikes” to be filed away.
The forms would list each woman’s age, nationality, cup size, height, dress size, hair colour and length, and their star sign. It detailed whether they were smokers, bisexual, had tattoos or breast enhancements.
It was a business with a high staff turnover, where the women were mostly British but also included Polish, Spanish and Romanians among their numbers. The women working on a given night would typically arrive at 2a Grosvenor Street at around 7pm, gathering in the lounge or bedroom to gossip and swap complaints about customers.
Munro lived in the flat’s smaller bedroom and would be virtually ever present at the “office”, except perhaps to visit his elderly mother in the Borders, where he was born in the town of Selkirk.
During the evenings, he would often play computer games or cook meals for everyone in the small kitchen. Paterson, meanwhile, who lives in another flat on Grosvenor Street, would come in later, often as late as 2am, to check how the business was running. Other times she would simply drop by to chat to “her girls” or watch TV. Munro would spend long periods behind a computer desk in the black-walled lounge with its black and white rug, carefully checking the firm’s websites and updating photographs of the escorts.
A keen amateur photographer, he amassed a library of more than 27,000 pictures of nude and scantily-clad women on the firm’s books over the years. He took the photos in the flat, posing the women on beds or draped across an ornate velvet chair.
But Paterson was clearly in charge of the computer as well, telling her business partner to “move” when she wanted to check her websites remained at the top of the Google listing for escorts in Edinburgh.
As “Trish”, Paterson would talk politely to clients, annoyed only by drunks and people who called in repeatedly. Clients who often felt they knew her well with one regular texting that she was his “second mother”. But despite this matronly demeanour, Paterson was also known to give the vice girls advice on “domination” – for men who wanted to be submissive.
Paterson, who was born in Penicuik and grew up on a farm, would handle calls for Edinburgh while Munro chiefly fielded clients from Glasgow, Aberdeen and the rest of the Lothians.
The women would phone Munro or Paterson after arriving at a client’s home or hotel room to say they were “settled” or “safe”, which meant they had been paid. Paterson was always quick to get her percentage, with drivers even dropping off money at her nearby home if she was not at the “office” to collect it. The agency accepted “in-calls” at Grosvenor Street where men called round to have sex with the prostitutes on the premises.
The vice girls knew that Munro was “not happy” about in-calls at but Paterson had “OK’d it”.
Visits were by appointment, with the clients seated in a velvet chair while the available women paraded one at a time. Regular customers were allowed to make selection in the lounge while a regular “good” customer was offered a drink. Known as the “Big Bedroom”, clients would be taken to the double room with its black walls and gold-framed mirror.
Increasingly, Paterson was absent after undergoing a major operation in early 2011, having battled cancer a few years before, while also caring for her sick mother who has dementia. But colleagues said she was gone for only ten days and continued to turn up at the flat on “60 per cent” of nights.
Paterson was proud that she paid taxes to HRMC from the business – but the hoard of luxury clothes and handbags from her flat showed an insatiable lust for cash. And last year the couple even tried to claim thousands of pounds’ compensation after a flood at the flat, which was blamed on a collapsed sewer fractured by nearby tramworks.
Today, Paterson’s veneer of respectability has been shattered as she and Munro face up to the reality of a jail sentence.