Police reveal seedy details of Edinburgh saunas

Police have revealed what goes on in Edinburgh's saunas. Picture: Toby Williams

THE X-rated liaisons inside Edinburgh’s saunas have been revealed in graphic police reports documenting a catalogue of findings which could sound the death knell for the city’s sex-for-sale industry.

Police inspections of five saunas found sex swings, scantily-clad women and pornography being streamed into rooms, with the Chief Constable objecting to the renewal of two licences – both catering to the city’s gay clientele.

While there was no “direct” proof of sexual activity at the remaining three premises, circumstantial evidence – such as bedroom-laden alcoves, stocks of condoms and pornographic magazines – has led police chiefs to recommend the licensing committee question sauna owners thoroughly on the activities that go on there.

It follows a series of raids in March involving 150 police officers that saw six premises – almost half of Edinburgh’s 13 saunas – have their licences suspended by councillors at the request of police. Many were later allowed to remain open after lodging appeals against the decision.

Critics suggested the unexpected swoop signalled a move away from the Capital’s traditionally more tolerant attitude towards the sex industry, something repeatedly denied by Police Scotland.

However, Edinburgh Greens councillor Steve Burgess said in previous hearings police had offered no evidence of wrong-doing following inspections and licences were therefore renewed, something which had changed in recent months.

Today, a source close to the sex industry said: “This certainly seems like a sea change in policy and could mark the end of the industry.”

Independent MSP Margo MacDonald said newly-appointed Chief Constable Sir Stephen House was “trying to make a name for himself” by attacking the Capital’s saunas.

She said: “In this regard Edinburgh was ahead of most cities in the world because this was managed in the interests of the citizens as much as the people employed in the 

“I wish the commanders of this new unified police force felt they didn’t have to make a name for themselves by digging up something that had been settled years ago and has since proved its worth.”

Ruth Morgan Thomas, co-ordinator of the Global 
Network of Sex Work Projects, said pushing sex work underground would lead to greater risk, but said of Edinburgh’s case: “It’s been on the cards.”

A council spokesperson said: “The licensing sub-committee will meet on October 23 to consider 13 public entertainment licences which are due for renewal. Where the police have raised concerns, these will be considered carefully.”

Police Scotland declined to comment.


POLICE said: “The premises contained a number of cabins, some of which had circular holes in the walls between them. The cabins were locked from the inside.

“One of the rooms contains what appears to be a leather-seated sex swing suspended by five linked chains. The reception contained supplies of lubricant and condoms. Trays of condoms were found in other parts of the premises.”


POLICE wrote in their report: “One member of staff and six male customers were found within.

“During the inspection, officers found evidence to indicate that the premises were used for activities other than those permitted by the licence, specifically sexual activity.

“On behalf of the Chief Constable, I object to the renewal of the licence under the terms of Schedule 1, Paragraph 5 (3) (d) of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 on the grounds that the premises have not been operated in accordance with the activities on their licence.”


POLICE said: “Seven girls were found along with two customers. Officers observed sauna and steam room facilities being offered for use on the premises . . . this applicant has failed to include steam room facilities within the description of activities.

“During the inspection, officers observed that the females working within the premises were scantily clad, massage rooms were equipped as bedrooms with mirrored ceilings and walls, no purpose-built massage tables were apparent on the premises and pornographic magazines were on display in the reception area.”


POLICE said: “Officers observed gym facilities being offered for use on the premises. In addition, the inspection revealed the fire escape door to be locked by means of a padlock.

“As such I have concerns that other activities other than those described on the licence are being carried out on the premises.

“It is also pertinent to note that the application specifies activities to be carried out on the premises as ‘sports facilities, sauna, steam room and gym’.”


POLICE said: “Officers observed that the females working within the premises were scantily clad, massage rooms were equipped as bedrooms, no purpose-built massage tables were apparent on the premises and used condoms were found in bins.

“As such I have concerns that activities other than those described on the licence are being carried out on the premises and in the absence of direct evidence of this, I would ask the committee to satisfy themselves that this is not the case.”

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