TWO prostitutes are plying their trade just yards from a bustling police station amid warnings that private flats are increasingly being used for business by sex workers.
The cheeky sex workers are operating from a plush £700-a-week mews house in Dewar Place Lane to the rear of the busy West End police base in Torphichen Place.
Their decision to “set up shop” in the shadow of the key station follows an unprecedented period of focus on the Capital’s sauna trade.
Last week we told how four saunas are to close after licensing officials refused to grant licenses.
It follows a string of police raids across the city and warnings that a Glasgow-style focus on the murky industry is forcing women away from the comparative safety of saunas into private flats.
Last night, one Edinburgh-based Police Scotland insider said the example the Evening News today exposes throws into stark reality a scenario now expected to become commonplace across the city. He said: “We’re going to see a lot more sex sold from private flats like this . . .with all the unique problems that can bring with it.”
Sex industry insiders say more prostitutes are now operating from flats. And today Independent Lothians MSP Margo MacDonald warned it would lead to a rise in sexually transmitted diseases and attacks on prostitutes.
Our investigation was sparked by members of the public concerned at the comings and goings in the well-heeled cobbled street. The attractive pair – who aren’t linked to the saunas – are only believed to have arrived in the city a week ago. Their arrival, however, has merely swelled the ranks of a burgeoning scene which leaves prostitutes vulnerable to the whims of potentially violent pimps.
Both of the Thai sex workers have posted explicit adverts on the adultworks.com website, where 286 such escorts are currently listed for Edinburgh.
Our reporter visited the house on Monday after making an appointment by phone for 1.30pm for an hour-long stay.
“Nina” had provided the address and texted the door number after our reporter arrived in the narrow street.
The back of the West End station is just 80 paces from the flat and several police cars were in its car park at the back at the time. Incredibly, officers pass the flat, as they use the lane for access, unaware of the seedy activities inside.
Buzzed into a small entry hall in the converted former stable block, a girlish voice called out to come up the spiral staircase to the upper floor.
In a large and immaculate living room with exposed timber beams and wooden floors, two empty wine glasses sat on a low table alongside untouched finger food. Smiling broadly, Nina emerged into the hall leading to one of the three bedrooms. Wearing heavy eye make-up and scantily dressed in a see-through negligee, black underwear and red high heels, she welcomed our reporter warmly into the master bedroom which had a double bed in its centre and an en-suite bathroom.
In the dimly lit room with blue and white walls, a trio of candles burned on top of a dresser with dozens of items of make-up and hair products scattered across it. On a bedside table were packets of condoms, lubricants and oils. Slim and attractive, Nina said it was £100 for an hour long sex session and – after being paid in cash – began neatly spreading a white towel over the bed.
Planning to start with “a sensual massage”, her heels clacking on the floor, she spoke in polite English with a distinctive Thai accent. She confirmed that the price included sex. Asked whether she knew about the nearby police station she rolled her eyes, smiled and said: “I know, I know. I don’t mind. I’m doing nothing wrong. I don’t sell drugs, I pay my taxes. I’m quite happy about it.”
Originally from southern Thailand, Nina said that she had only been in the Capital for a week but “loved” the city and planned to stay for longer.
She claimed to be working alone from the house, but the Evening News has learned that she is one of two prostitutes based there. During an earlier visit, her fellow sex worker Layla – who is also from Thailand – revealed that the pair were paying £700 a week in rent. The property is advertised online as a holiday let sleeping up to six people, with weekly rates of up to £1300. The offence of brothel-keeping is only committed when two or more women work from the same home.
Not eager to talk for long, Nina quickly wanted to move on to the bed where the towel was straightened out and asked our reporter to undress and lie down. He made his excuses and left the premises.
As police officers walked up and down the street, another male client, a grey baseball cap pulled down over his eyes, arrived around 30 minutes later and was buzzed inside.
Ms MacDonald is “certain” that the continued crackdown on city saunas will increasingly result in prostitutes being driven to set up in private premises. She said: “Prostitution from private flats would be a definite offshoot of this crackdown on saunas. This in turn could result in a spike in sexually transmitted diseases and violent attacks on sex workers.
“The saunas resulted from a combination of necessity and invention when prostitution was removed from the streets. There is little to be gained in driving prostitution underground.”
This view is echoed by Neil McCulloch, of sex workers charity Scotpep, who added: “What we would like to see is for it to become perfectly legal to run a business such as a brothel.”
Another city-based charity that foresees problems is Another Way, which offers sex workers one-to-one support to help them with issues such as addictions, personal safety, domestic abuse and housing. The service is run by community safety group Sacro and this year it won national recognition for “its outstanding work to support women” involved in sex work in the Capital.
Sacro chief executive Tom Halpin said: “Another Way does great work. Such connections would become even more important in reaching out to women if they moved to private work.”
Scotpep believes there are around 700 women working in the sex industry in Edinburgh at present – in saunas, in private flats and as escorts. It believes it is inevitable women will be driven into flats as saunas become regulated or closed.
That view was shared by a city-based Police Scotland officer, with experience in the vice trade, who said: “The move to sex being sold in flats is happening now. Is that desirable? In my experience, no. But that is where we are and we’re probably going to have to change our approach. We’ve sent Edinburgh’s sex industry underground.”
Police officers have been informed by the News of a brothel at the rear of the West End Police Station. A Police Scotland spokesman said: “It is a criminal offence to keep, manage or assist in the management of a brothel or to knowingly allow premises to be used as a brothel. Anyone with information about criminality should contact Police Scotland.”
Police chief will face local questions time
SCOTLAND’S chief constable Sir Stephen House is set to be quizzed by MSPs tomorrow over local policing – the issue which has sparked controversy over alleged changes in policy ranging from saunas to community officers.
His appearance before the Scottish Parliament’s policing sub-committee will be the second time in three days that the country’s top policeman has been at Holyrood to answer questions.
There have been claims that the creation of a single police force under the leadership of Sir Stephen, who was previously chief constable of Strathclyde, has led to Glasgow-style policing being imposed on the Capital, not least in the crackdown on saunas.
There has also been a big increase in the use of stop and search powers and concerns have been voiced about a possible change in approach to outdoor drinking.
Council chiefs are also threatening to cut funding for community police officers amid complaints they are being diverted to other duties. Appearing before MSPs on Holyrood’s justice committee yesterday, Sir Stephen said around Scotland there were about 300 police officers funded solely by local councils. “There was always an understanding that operational deployment would in the main be around the duties the council wanted, which was local visible policing but there would be occasions when those officers may be deployed somewhere else for a brief period – a demonstration or an industrial dispute or something.”
Christine Grahame said at a previous meeting the late Lothian Tory MSP David McLetchie had clarified that money from local authorities did not disappear into the general fund but would purchase a number of police officers.
Sir Stephen is also expected to be quizzed on the proposed closure of police counters. He told yesterday’s committee 150 front counter staff wanted voluntary redundancy. He said: “It’s an old-fashioned concept that if you want a cop you go to the police station.”
The questions chief must answer
Q Why does Sir Stephen plan to close public counters at police stations where there is clear demand and there are staff working in the building?
Q What assurance can he offer that stations which lose their counters will not then be closed completely?
Q Can he guarantee that where police station counters do close there will some other public point of contact in these communities where people can find the police?
Q How much discretion do police chiefs in Edinburgh have to follow different policies from elsewhere?
Q What does he say to members of community councils who complain that the neighbourhood police officers who used to attend their meetings to discuss local concerns no longer turn up?
Q How many times have Edinburgh’s community police officers been deployed to other duties since Police Scotland came into existence?
Q How can he claim there has been no change of policy on saunas when the police urged councillors to ban saunas from having “items of a sexual nature” on their premises?