Northern Ireland

Gang 'spent £54,000 advertising Belfast brothels'

A series of raids were carried out on suspected brothels in Belfast
Image caption A series of raids were carried out on suspected brothels in Belfast

A Scottish crime gang spent more than £50,000 advertising brothels in Belfast, a court has been told.

Two men and two women appeared in court in Belfast on Monday after raids on seven suspected brothels across Belfast on Friday.

One of two alleged victims, a foreign national, claimed to have been sold to those suspected of being in charge.

The gang was said to have also operated brothels in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Cardiff.

Malcolm McNeill, 46, of Forest Avenue, Hamilton, Lanarkshire; Ashleigh Beuken, 21, from Argyle Street, Lanarkshire; and Stephen Craig, 33, of Albert Road, Clydebank, are accused of trafficking, controlling prostitution for gain, brothel keeping and converting criminal property.

Yvonne Dawson, 22, of Tambowie Cottages, Milngavie, Glasgow, is charged with controlling prostitution.

All four, who were remanded in custody, were arrested during Operation Apsis, aimed at recovering the victims of sexual exploitation.

A detective inspector told Belfast Magistrates Court one alleged victim was found during searches carried out at premises in Belfast in July.

Another, identified as Witness B, was sold to the gang in Glasgow and then brought to Belfast, he said.

The court was told thousands of phone calls made by Mr Craig on a mobile allegedly used to control the business were studied.

Police claimed 35 flights were booked in the last four months, with a credit card in a fictitious name used in payments.

The detective said one city centre brothel was advertised in a national tabloid newspaper under the heading: "Hot A-Level students, 18-plus in Belfast."

He said in the last year £54,000 had been spent on the gang's advertising budget.

'Public front'

Police alleged Mr McNeill, a coach driver, was the public front of the gang, with a good credit history which enabled them to rent properties.

It was claimed others would carry out viewings before he was flown in to sign tenancy agreements.

However, a defence solicitor claimed Mr McNeill had been used as "a patsy" by others.

"It's his bank account and his credit card used in these properties. He wasn't aware of any of this."

Ms Dawson was alleged to have viewed properties with a view to them being used as brothels.

Her lawyer told the court she had fully co-operated with police and claimed to have been an "independent escort".

A solicitor for Ms Beuken told the court she did not accept any of the allegations against her.

She was remanded in custody until later this week when she is expected to apply for bail.

Both Ms Dawson and Mr McNeill were denied bail and remanded until next month, along with Mr Craig, who did not seek to be released.

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