Saunas put fate in council hands as legal bid ends

The city's licensing committee will vote on October 23 to decide whether the saunas must close. Picture: Neil Hanna

The city's licensing committee will vote on October 23 to decide whether the saunas must close. Picture: Neil Hanna

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COUNCILLORS are set to decide the fate of six saunas facing closure after the owners backed away from court action to keep their doors open.

Lawyers for three of the saunas appeared at Edinburgh Sheriff Court yesterday and revealed their clients had applied to the city council for a renewal of their licences.

Under a deal with council lawyers, both parties agreed to end the court battle and let the licensing committee vote on whether the saunas must close at a meeting on October 23.

The other three saunas whose licences were suspended are set to have their day in court on Friday, but it is understood that their lawyers will pursue the same course of action.

Sauna bosses today said they were confident that the council would back the renewals and let “everything return to normal”.

Council insiders said they expected the vote to go in favour of renewing the licences.

The licence suspensions followed police raids in June, which saw seven people charged in connection with brothel keeping and living off immoral earnings. Sauna chiefs launched appeals to the courts and have remained open for business while the process played out.

Former sauna boss Peter Donoghue represents the Paradise, Dundas Street and New Gentle Touch saunas, which were in court yesterday.

He said: “If the council doesn’t give back the licences then all the problems that have been discussed will come to pass. Women being forced out on to the street, or into private flats, and the dangers that brings.

“The women working at the saunas are still worried but they are hopeful. They have mortgages to pay, children to support.”

He added: “It is better that the council decides. This was always a matter for them, not the police or courts. But if the licences are not renewed, we’ll appeal again.”

Sheriff Neil MacKinnon agreed to end the legal action for the first three saunas yesterday. Scorpio Leisure in Albion Road, the Blair Street Sauna and the New Town Sauna in Hart Street are set to have their hearing next week.

A council insider said: “The council policy has not changed. Saunas will be licensed as long as they meet strict licensing conditions. The councillors on the committee have individual views, but I would expect the licences to be renewed.”

Some sauna bosses had threatened to expose around 50 “well-known” figures who paid for sex at their premises.

But Mr Donoghue, who was not involved in drawing up the lists, said: “I don’t believe these will be released. These were people worried about losing their livelihoods and doing whatever they could think of to stop it.”

A council spokesman said: “We are unable to comment on an ongoing case”.

HOW THE DRAMA HAS UNFOLDED

November 2012: City council renews licences of saunas in the Capital despite mass objections.

January 2013: First warnings that prostitutes will be put at risk of attack if new single police force adopts hardline policy.

June 2013: Raids carried out on seven saunas.

July 2013: Six city saunas ordered to shut down.

August 2013: Sauna workers say they fear being raped or murdered. Suspended saunas lodge appeal.

September 2013: Sauna bosses threaten to expose well-known public figures who use services.

October 2013: Sex industry bosses reverse out of court action – and leave their fate in the hands of licensing councillors. Police probe into the industry continues.