Saunas laid bare in licensing challenge

There has been a legal bid to shut down the Capital's saunas
There has been a legal bid to shut down the Capital's saunas
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SAUNA bosses are to be brought before licensing chiefs next month as they prepare to rule on a major challenge to the sex-for-sale industry in 
Edinburgh.

Massage parlours in the city are due to have their licences renewed on November 7.

The premises require public entertainment licences, re-issued every three years, which allow them to operate.

However, campaigner Mike Anthony claims councillors have been breaking the law for years by approving saunas which are effectively operating as brothels.

The licensing committee will hear claims from the IT expert, who has previously been involved in attempts to close the city’s sex-for-sale venues.

It is understood 13 of the 15 are up for renewal.

In the past five years, members of the committee have only heard a handful of objections, mostly minor and relating to noise or environmental conditions rather than a 
challenge against the premise on which they operate.

Mr Anthony, 59, claimed the tolerance of a “grey area” allows “pimps” to make money from prostitution to the detriment of the workers.

He said: “The tolerance we have in this city has broken the laws of this country.

“The authorities tried to take prostitution off the streets but it’s driven it underground. I believe licensed brothels would be a better solution, since it would allow the regulation of the industry. Either that or make the police close them down. Having this in-between area means you can’t control it.”

Edinburgh is known for its liberal approach to prostitution. Premises operate with public entertainment licences and officials turn a blind eye, but the running of a brothel is illegal.

Figures involved in the sauna industry told the Evening News the challenge is being regarded as serious, but said they have yet to see any evidence to demonstrate that the premises are involved in illegal activity.

One senior legal figure said: “This is very unusual. Because many of these premises have been operating for decades, objections are few and far between and trouble is very rare indeed.

“It’s also unusual in that any objections usually centre around a noise complaint, for example, and the premises can agree to cut back hours of operation or agree to 
conditions. This is a black and white challenge on whether we will tolerate saunas and massage parlours or not.”

Challenges against the industry are rare but, in 1995, mother-of-two Debra Scanlan won a court ruling that the council had broken the law by licensing a sauna near her home when there was evidence – partly provided by a News investigation – that it was a front for a brothel.

Councillors on the committee will hear from police and licensing officials about the background and any incidents to have taken place at the sauna, along with hearing from the objector.

Most of the committee, led by SNP member Gavin Barrie, are newly-elected councillors, which a council source said made predicting the outcome on November 7 difficult.

The source added: “It’s a new committee with a new convener and it could go any way.

“It might be they decide to take a stand against this and do away with the entire lot.”