THE Crown Office has dropped the cases against eleven people charged with brothel offences, prompting criticism of Police Scotland for its high profile raids on Edinburgh's saunas.

Six men and five women were set for a court hearing in November, but prosecutors backed off and have now abandoned the proceedings.

Many of Edinburgh’s saunas have effectively operated as brothels since the mid-1980s.

The approach had the tacit support of the former Lothian and Borders police force and the council in Edinburgh, which provided saunas with public entertainment licenses.

Supporters of the policy, which amounted to the decriminalisation of prostitution, argued that licensing kept sex workers safe.

However, despite the regime operating for nearly three decades, around 150 police officers took part in raids on some of the premises in 2013.

Operation Windermere occurred weeks after the single force came into being and was interpreted as Police Scotland imposing the ethos of the old Strathclyde force on Edinburgh.

The action worried councillors who believed their licensing policy had been undermined.

As a result of the raids, the local authority ripped up its long-standing policy by no longer licensing the saunas, which now operate on an unregulated basis.

The police investigation led to criminal charges in relation to alleged brothel-keeping and other offences and eleven people appeared in court last year.

Ian Douglas Haig and his brother Charles Haig, who were 72 and 75 when they appeared at Edinburgh Sheriff Court, denied being involved in the management of a brothel at Scorpio Leisure in Edinburgh and at other addresses.

The two men also denied living wholly or partly on the earnings of prostitution.

Kelly-Ann Potter, Jane Jardine Donoghue and Peter Donoghue - who were 31, 44 and 70 years old at the time of last year’s hearing – denied being involved in the management of a brothel at Paradise Sauna in the city and elsewhere.

Others denied similar brothel charges in relation to the saunas at Dundas Street, Blair Street and in the New Town.

It was alleged that the offences were aggravated by a connection with serious organised crime. All eleven pleaded not guilty.

The cases were due to be heard in November, but a Scottish Court Service official said they were “not called”.

In legal terms, “not called” is a disposal meaning proceedings are at and end, but the Crown has the option of re-raising the case.

However, a spokesperson for the Crown Office said: "It is the duty of the Crown to keep cases under review, including the available admissible evidence.

"Having considered information provided to the Crown in these cases, no further criminal proceedings will be taken."

The only tangible outcome of the raids has been the council’s decision to abandon its policy.

Sex workers also complained at the time about the alleged heavy handed approach of the single force.

Months after the raids, it was also reported that sauna owners were threatening to expose public figures who had paid for sex at their premises.

A former sauna boss was quoted saying of the rumours: “I know that a number of the saunas have these lists. I was asked if we wanted to draw up a list but I said ‘no, that’s not the way I do business’. I don’t know the names, but I’m told there’s lots of them and some are very well-known.

“We have police officers and ex-police officers, who are usually widowed or are older in life, who come to us as regulars at our saunas. But we wouldn’t think of exposing these people.”

Laura Lee, a sex worker, writer and campaigner for sex workers' rights, said: “The Edinburgh sauna raids were symptomatic of a shift in policy when Police Scotland merged into one force. In some cases, the saunas had been running for thirty years and had a good working relationship with local police. Former Chief Constable Stephen House set about introducing a country wide "Zero Tolerance" approach, originally adopted by Strathclyde police. Not surprisingly, Zero Tolerance doesn't work.”

Police Scotland Detective Chief Superintendent Lesley Boal said: “Since June 2013, our approach to tackling issues around exploitation and harm involving people working in prostitution has been significantly enhanced. The focus we have placed on public protection has led to greater awareness and understanding across Scotland of human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children and adults.”