Senior policeman denies tougher policy on saunas

Police raided the London Street sauna last week. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Police raided the London Street sauna last week. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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A HIGH-ranking police officer has denied a change in policy towards the licensed sex industry following a major clampdown on Edinburgh’s saunas.

Around 150 officers swooped on seven saunas and 11 related premises on Friday as part of a joint operation involving the fire service, immigration and tax officials and environmental health officers.

Assets worth £500,000 were seized and three suspects were arrested for drugs offences.

London Street Sauna was among locations again targeted last week, with officers questioning workers at the premises for almost two hours in a separate raid on Wednesday.

Earlier this month, police said they had found evidence of human trafficking during a series of raids on Edinburgh saunas, but refused to reveal any details. However they said further investigations were being carried out and could take some time.

If charges were to be brought in connection with trafficking, it is understood they would be the first of their kind in the Capital.

Critics have previously accused the former Lothian and Borders force of turning a blind eye to Edinburgh’s licensed sex trade. The latest raids suggested the newly formed Police Scotland had adopted a different approach.

But Police Scotland Assistant Chief Constable Malcolm Graham said local forces would not and had never ignored 
criminality.

He said: “There has been no policy change from Police Scotland.

“Neither has there been a new approach dictated or directed from one part of the country or the other.

“The police service is there to keep people safe. We do that by targeting criminal activity, those who orchestrate it, and by protecting those who are at risk of harm, the most vulnerable, and supporting victims. Put simply, we would be failing the public if we adopted the ‘turned a blind eye’ approach.”

He said police had been targeting criminal activity during last week’s operation centring on prostitution in licensed saunas. Adding that saunas were often not safe havens, adding: “Months in the planning, our activity uncovered at least two women who reported having been trafficked, serious sexual crime, drugs offences and criminal proceeds seized.”

It comes amid reports that the sex saunas were backed by businesses which do not need to disclose their income publicly.

Records show that 11 of the 13 saunas have “unincorporated” companies registered at their addresses, none of which need to lodge accounts at Companies House.

Although legal, the set up prevents public scrutiny of the finances of firms linked to the saunas.

Earlier this month, Chief Superintendent Mark Williams said officers in Edinburgh had inspected licensed saunas before the formation of the single police force on April 1 and would continue to do so following the creation of Police Scotland.