Edinburgh sauna raids: Police ‘took it too far’

Police leave the London Street Sauna following a search of the premises. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Police leave the London Street Sauna following a search of the premises. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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PROSTITUTES were strip searched and intimidated by police during raids on Edinburgh’s saunas, a Lothians politician has claimed.

Independent MSP Margo MacDonald said around six sex workers had made allegations of heavy-handed policing and claimed officers breached procedure by failing to issue receipts for confiscated items.

The veteran politician – a vocal advocate of Edinburgh’s liberal stance to sex work – has now sought an explanation from Chief Superintendant Mark Williams, who commands Edinburgh City Division, amid plans to meet city leader Councillor Andrew Burns to determine whether the
special status afforded to Capital saunas will be upheld under a single police force.

Sex worker charity Scot-Pep has supported Ms MacDonald’s claims and said sauna workers had experienced “extremely degrading treatment” during the police raids.

Police Scotland denied the claims and insisted it had not received any complaints.

More than 150 officers pounced on seven saunas and 11 related premises in a major blitz on Edinburgh’s licensed sex industry last month. The surprise raids, that saw three suspects arrested for drugs offences, have prompted claims that the city’s blind-eye policy towards prostitution was being reversed following the move to a single police force.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill and Police Scotland have denied these claims.

In a letter to the Chief Superintendent Williams, Ms MacDonald welcomed sauna inspections but questioned the “intimidating” attitude of some officers.

She asked: “Why, for example, was it considered necessary to strip search some women, but not all? Also, why was there an absence of the usual practice of issuing receipts for any confiscated articles?

“I would welcome and expect an effective inspection template to be constructed from lessons gained from these recent inspections, and the decades of experience in 
Edinburgh.”

A Scot-Pep spokeswoman said the charity was “extremely concerned” for the welfare of sauna workers “who are increasingly frightened of potential violations of their rights at the hands of police officers”.

She added: “This approach does nothing to enhance the safety and protection of worker’s rights, but instead drives a wedge of fear and distrust between workers and services.

“Scot-Pep will be challenging the police and other services that were present during these raids for their gross misconduct and degrading treatment of workers which would not happen in any other industry.”

Chief Superintendent Williams said: “Police Scotland and their partners undertook considerable planning prior to this operation, not only to ensure the inspections were carried out safely and efficiently, but to handle all of those inside each premises upon our arrival with sensitivity and compassion.

“Officers and other agency representatives were provided with extensive briefings on appropriate behaviour . . . we have received no complaints from any employee.”