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Council hit by huge legal costs over saunas row

THE legal costs for one of ­Scotland's largest councils over court cases related to alleged ­sex-for-sale saunas have reached more than £36,000.

Edinburgh City Council may face further costs after a sheriff ruled it "erred in law" by suggesting there was no evidence a sauna was being used as a place of prostitution in a ­judgment shortly before the council moved to abandon its controversial "blind-eye" policy.

Solicitors' fees incurred over the last two years are understood to be mostly related to the case, where Sheriff Alistair Noble ­criticised the council's licensing committee for dismissing material online and in press reporting as "speculation" when granting the licence to the sauna.

The council "failed to provide a coherent statement of reasons" for allowing the licence.

The action was raised by capital resident Mike Anthony, who has clashed with sauna owners and the council over the legality of licensing of such premises.

Further costs were incurred separately after sauna operators began and then abandoned a sheriff court action following the launch of Police Scotland's clampdown on alleged brothel-keeping.

Mr Anthony said at the time he believed his actions had been fully justified by decision by the sheriff in his favour, with Mr Noble reversing the licensing committee's decision to certify saunas.

Mr Anthony raised appeals against the granting of licences to all 13 of the city's saunas in 2012.

Nearly £30,000 of costs, ­including hiring Queen's Counsel, were incurred in 2012, documents reveal. The total external legal cost since 2011 is £36,697.85 (exclusive of VAT). This consists of:

l Solicitor fees of £648 for ­interdict and damages action raised July 2012;

l Solicitor fees of £572 and QC fees of £3750 for the detailed legal advice;

l Solicitor fees of £11,581, QC fees of £17,350 and outlays of £255.85 for to an appeal raised in 2012;

l Solicitor fees of £1191 and QC fee of £1350 for six appeals raised in July 2013.

The council has said it wants to end the licensing of saunas and is holding a consultation. Officials recommended its role in certifying premises should be scrapped after concerns over legal challenges.

Scot Pep, which supports ­workers in the sex industry, has said it is opposed to removing licensing as it could diminish the level of protection for women.

Operation Windermere was launched in June when about 150 police officers, along with social workers and health and safety investigators, mounted an apparent push against claims of so-called accepted prostitution. It came a few months after the formation of the single police force.

Seven people were charged with 15 offences after the operation was initiated, including five with alleged brothel-keeping and living off immoral earnings

A council spokesman said: "Our response to any legal challenge is assessed on a case by case basis and appropriate action is taken accordingly. We manage our legal costs within the licensing budget, which we continually monitor."

Instead of Public Entertainments licences, sauna premises would come under trading ­standards scrutiny, while Police Scotland said its Operation Windermere was ongoing.

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

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