SCOTLAND'S only ''official'' red light area was abandoned in Edinburgh yesterday after prostitutes working in the zone apparently flouted the rules laid down by the police after just two weeks.

Residents who led a vociferous campaign against the plans reported incidents of prostitutes having sex in common stairwells and of syringes and condoms littering the streets.

The move by Lothian and Borders Police has thrown the city's 20-year liberal policy on street prostitution into turmoil, with officers unclear yesterday as to their approach when the zone is disbanded at the end of


A source close to the officers responsible for controlling the zone said last night that police were facing increasing pressure from the public as to what was perceived as a conflict of interest on their relaxed approach on prostitution.

He said: ''There was a feeling from the public that the police should not be condoning this practice, but instead arresting the people involved in the trade. However, senior officers do not want to go down the route of enforcing prostitution laws.''

The zone was set up on August 15 in an industrial area of Salamander Street, Leith, after the traditional area of Coburg Street, near the waterfront - which had served prostitutes since the early 1980s - became more residential.

John Fullerton, who founded the campaign group to fight the issue, which had included the police and Edinburgh City Council being threatened with legal action, said there had been no consultation by the police before the prostitutes were moved.

He said: ''This is not an issue of 'not in my backyard', it's simply an issue of not being tolerant of an illegal activity which may well not go away, but should not be inflicted upon ordinary people by the people who are supposed to protect us from such


The officer responsible for setting up the zone, Pat Byrne, chief superintendent at Leith, said yesterday that the police had been put in an ''invidious position''.

Residents reported prostitutes straying away from the zone into nearby residential areas, where some were said to be having sex in back gardens. There were also reports of female residents being approached by clients.

Mr Byrne said: ''We moved the prostitutes from Coburg Street after consultation with other parties in response to the changes in the area and identified as an alternative a part of Salamander Street which does not have residents living directly on it.

''We do not want to slip back 20 years to a time when prostitution was creating enormous health problems and crime, such as serious assault, even including murders. Health and community safety were the priorities.

''However, we always said we would consult and listen to views. It has become clear that local feeling means residents and businesses are not willing to accept the proposal.''

Mr Byrne said he regretted that the experiment in Salamander Street had come to end, but added: ''We police by consent and these were valid opinions which have made it clear that this model is unsustainable, and therefore the experiment will end by November 30.''

Ruth Morgan Thomas, project manager of the Scottish Prostitutes Education Project (Scotpep), predicted the removal of the zone could result in an increase in crime in the area.

She said: ''We are extremely disheartened this decision has been made only two weeks into the three-month experiment. If we cannot find another area to move these girls to, then the consequences could be dire.

''We will see a return to the dangerous situation we had 20 years ago where crime associated with prostitution was very high. From our point of view, it will be extremely difficult to maintain contact with girls working on the streets, which could have serious public health issues.''

The decision was taken by police after consultation with councillors, and council and health officials.

Phil Attridge, the local councillor, said that, although the residents welcomed the climbdown, the issue had to be looked at urgently on a national level.

''We were victims of our own success, as prostitutes were travelling from other cities to the zone and the police were just caught between a rock and a hard place. It's time we looked at this issue at (Scottish) executive level and adopted a workable policy based on pragmatism and not the moral majority.''