Lawyer: How I saved Edinburgh’s saunas after police raids

The raids took place in 2013
The raids took place in 2013

A LAWYER has revealed how he thwarted police efforts to close down Edinburgh’s notorious sex saunas.

Vincent Belmonte – who has almost 50 years’ experience of criminal law – represented several saunas facing prostitution charges following a series of police raids in 2013.

The 72-year-old’s investigation into a “secret” agreement that meant the sale of sex had effectively been legal in the Capital since 1986 eventually brought down Police Scotland’s Operation Windermere.

He discovered a deal was made between a number of authorities – including the council, NHS Lothian and the police – to allow prostitution within saunas if they promoted safe sex and supplied condoms.

The finding led to the collapse of 11 criminal charges against those involved in running the saunas – but bringing the truth to light wasn’t easy.

Mr Belmonte, a partner at Edinburgh firm Belmonte & Co, said he had tried to ask the agencies involved to confirm the agreement, but got nowhere. Success only came when Sheriff Kenneth McIver, a former senior depute fiscal in the Crown Office, confirmed the existence of the policy.

Mr Belmonte said: “I was absolutely certain there was a policy and just needed to prove it. The saunas were trading legally in my eyes as a lawyer.

“I was told it was a policy that required the agreement of the various agencies in the city at the time. The agencies involved were Edinburgh Council, the NHS in Lothian, the police, the prosecution authorities and the environmental health people.

“I asked all the agencies to send me records of their meetings which had set up the policy. None of them cooperated. I then wrote asking to take statements from the people involved in the policy, one of whom was Sheriff McIver. There was a three or four-week silence. I was then told discreetly not to bother preparing for the case as it wasn’t going ahead.

“The procurator fiscal at the Crown Office clearly didn’t have any idea that the policy existed and had never been rescinded. I knew then the Crown were in difficulties, so I wasn’t surprised the case was dropped.”

A senior police source told the Evening News the agreement was well-known and came amid an atmosphere of increasing concern around Edinburgh’s AIDS epidemic.

Police Scotland began targeting saunas withing weeks of the new single force being introduced in April 2013.

Chief Superintendent Kenny MacDonald, who is responsible for policing in Edinburgh, said: “We will continue to do everything we can to ensure people who may be being exploited have confidence to seek help.

“Where the police have information regarding organised criminal activity or the coercion or exploitation of individuals, the public would rightly expect us to respond.”

alistair.grant@jpress.co.uk