THERE have been calls to extend a secret 30-year-old sex for sale agreement protecting Edinburgh sauna owners from prosecution.
Alex Cole-Hamilton, Lib Dem MSP for Edinburgh Western, said repealing the deal which allows sex to be sold legally in the Capital would be a step backwards.
It emerged at the weekend that the no-prosecution policy scuppered a police crackdown on the vice business launched by former chief constable Sir Stephen House when Police Scotland was formed.
The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) has revealed it had since taken steps to ensure this will not prevent any future prosecutions.
But Mr Cole-Hamilton urged them to think twice before scrapping the original policy which was introduced to tackle the Aids epidemic.
He said: “I’m delighted that the crackdown scuppered in that way. The most important thing in any discussion of the sex trade is to ensure that sex-workers are safe and free from exploitation.
“Stephen House sought to apply Glasgow tactics in an Edinburgh context which was effectively a prohibition. And while people obviously have concerns about licensed saunas at least they give sex workers a place to work away from the street, increased security and greater access to safe sex measures. It would be a great pity if Edinburgh took a 30-year step back and I support the retention of the [original] measure.”
The rate of HIV infection among heroin-users had soared at the time, and many female addicts sold sex to feed their habit.
Responding to the crisis, the then Lothian and Borders Police, the city council and NHS officials agreed saunas could allow prostitutes on the premises on the basis that they promoted safe sex and provided condoms. The existence of the deal was confirmed after one of the sauna-owners arrested in the crackdown asked his lawyers to check on the status of the policy.
Police Scotland began targeting saunas shortly after the introduction of a single force three years ago but charges against sauna bosses have now been dropped after it emerged that the 30-year-old agreement had not been overturned.
The paper was signed by politicians, police and a senior Crown Office official in 1986.
A Crown Office spokesman said: “New information came to light about the then procurator fiscal’s knowledge of the public health measures adopted in Edinburgh by the local authority, health bodies and Lothian and Borders Police to minimise the impact of prostitution. Crown counsel decided it was not in the public interest to continue with those prosecutions.
“Steps have been taken to ensure this issue does not prevent any future prosecutions.
“Prosecutors are committed to the robust investigation and prosecution of those involved in the organisation of prostitution and will use every available tool to hold the perpetrators to account.”