A CHARITY has claimed planned welfare visits by police to home-based sex workers are little more than thinly-disguised raids.

Scot-Pep, which aims to protect the rights of people in the industry, said Operation Lingle will intimidate women in the sex industry and is out of step with public opinion.

Police Scotland confirmed a range of agencies are involved in talks about the new strategy and said it was not intended to criminalise or intimidate sex workers but would offer support.

The force denied claims from Scot-Pep that the pilot scheme would encourage members of the public to report neighbours who they believe may be sex workers.

The charity said that although it had been involved in discuss-ions, its concerns about Operation Lingle had been dismissed.

Board member Nadine Stott said: "In private conversations with the police, Operation Lingle has been presented to Scot-Pep as a progressive, and welfare based policy. However sex workers' serious concerns were ignored."

She said the policy gave the welfare of sex workers no more than token consideration and added that "intimidating" home visits in Glasgow were to be rolled out across the country.

Prostitution is legal in Scotland, but if more than one worker operates from the same premises that is classed as a brothel, rendering it illegal.

"Where sex workers are working alone, they will be intimidated. Where two or more sex workers are working together for safety - a set up that is currently criminalised - those sex workers will be forced to choose between a safer workplace and prosecution," Ms Stott said.

She said the visits, combined with increased online surveillance of sex workers, would undermine harm reduction and destroy trust between sex workers and police - already undermined by a series of raids on saunas.

Scot-Pep will now seek a meeting with Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill while calling on Police Scotland to scrap the policy.

Green MSP Patrick Harvie said he was concerned about the impact on a vulnerable group of people as well as the wider civil liberties implications."I would urge the Scottish Government and Police Scotland to reconsider this operation urgently. Our priority should be protecting sex workers against violence and exploitation, not intimidating them and using police intelligence to identify and harass them," he said.

However DCI Ruth Gilfillan, of the National Rape Taskforce and Human Trafficking Unit, who has been involved in the development of Operation Lingle said it was a pilot programme which would help identify those at risk and offer support to people working in the off-street sex industry. "The visits would involve a support worker with a police officer and the main aim is to improve welfare and build trust," she said.

"It is disappointing that the aims and objectives of the multi-agency approach appear to have been misinterpreted. Police Scotland remains committed to working with all of our partners including Scot-Pep."

Other agencies involved in developing the pilot also defended it. Katie Cosgrove, gender-based violence programme manager for NHS Health Scotland, said: "Given the relative invisibility of this group, and the vulnerability they experience, we believe that many may not be aware of, or able to access, existing services, and that a proactive approach is required to reach them."

Nicola McPhee, head of Community Justice at Commun-ity Safety Glasgow said: "This partnership approach provides an opportunity for our services to engage with women involved in indoor prostitution and provide immediate harm reduction advice as well as ongoing support where necessary."