UNTIL yesterday Russell Stirton gave the impression of being untouchable despite being exposed years ago as Scotland's porn king with links to leading crime families in the west of Scotland.

He had it all: the house in an exclusive area, bought for (pounds) 370,000 more than three years ago and now worth up to (pounds) 600,000; the top-of-the-range car and ownership of a petrol station and pub.

However, all his assets - reputedly worth (pounds) 2m - are now frozen after up to 100 police officers raided his businesses and houses. They will not be returned unless he can prove his wealth comes from legitimate means.

He is the latest victim of the Proceeds of Crime Act, in which ''dirty money'' is targeted by police and the Crown.

Seizures included the petrol station in Springburn Road, Glasgow, purchased with a business partner in the summer of 2002 for (pounds) 151,000.

It has since gained a reputation for selling petrol at around 10% below the UK average, and for even dictating fuel costs in Glasgow.

However, according to police, his low-cost policy had a sinister motive - to ensure floods of cash through the tills to mask laundering criminal profits, including drugs money.

Mr Stirton, often said to be 38 although records show he will be 44 in March, is a brother-in-law to the McGovern crime family.

Police are now exploring his links to the family, said to preside over a fortune of (pounds) 14m and business interests from property and pubs to taxis and security across Glasgow's north side.

Mr Stirton is widely perceived to be a henchman for the McGoverns, and to run the petrol station on their behalf.

His house has a mortgage of (pounds) 220,000 while the filling station appears to have no borrowings.

He is a former close associate of Paul Ferris, another notorious underworld figure in Glasgow whose brother Billy began a second life sentence last month for murdering 15-year-old Jason Hutchison.

In 1997, Paul Ferris and Mr Stirton tried to expose corruption in Strathclyde Police during a trial against an officer accused of possessing a shotgun. The trial collapsed and the officer was cleared. Ferris was jailed for three years while Mr Stirton, a witness, was described in court as ''an alleged drugs dealer and a dangerous criminal who would carry and use guns''.

Two years later, Mr Stirton was exposed as a porn king running a lucrative mail order and online agency from an end-terrace house occupied by his mother Jessie in Kelvin Road, Milngavie.

He is married to Jacqueline Stirton, sister to the four McGovern brothers Jamie, Joe, Paul and Tommy.

A fifth brother, Tony, was shot dead three years ago in a gang feud.

Although Mr Stirton owns the petrol station and has links to the Thomson Bar in Springburn, he has only held one appointment with a limited company - as director between 1995 and 1998 of a now dissolved building firm.

He is the third ''well-known Glasgow character'' to have assets frozen in the past month. Lewis Rodden, who was shot in an Amsterdam bar in 2001, had warrants served freezing (pounds) 700,000, while Hugh O'Donnell also had assets held in an unrelated inquiry.

New powers

l The Proceeds of Crime Act

came into force in March last year, allowing police to confiscate criminals' assets.

l Detectives are able to investigate money laundering more vigorously, as they no longer have to prove investigations are directly linked to a particular crime.

l A new financial inquiry unit was set up in Glasgow and a civil recovery unit established at the Crown Office to decide if cases can be pursued under civil law if the proof falls short of a criminal investigation.