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Mum cleared of running brothel

By christina.johnson  |  Posted: April 29, 2010

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Britain's 'antiquated' vice laws were thrown into disarray today when a massage parlour boss who worked from home was sensationally cleared of running a brothel.

Claire Astrid Finch, 49, had fought the case against over whelming evidence to highlight the plight of prostitutes who want to work from home, but want the safety of having other women with them.

She offered topless massage "with happy endings" from her bungalow in a cul-de-sac in a quiet Bedfordshire village, and advertised in local newspapers.

Other middle aged women would work from the bungalow, complete with swimming pool, but there were never more than four working at a time.

She told police she did not provide other services but some of her colleagues did. She would take a percentage of their fees for their use of the premises and her advertising.

But on November 19 2008, a large number of police raided the property and she was arrested.

Prosecutor Samantha Cohen told the jury at Luton Crown Court: "A brothel is a premises where sexual services are offered by more than one person. Ms Finch works as a prostitute and has done so for many years."

She pleaded not guilty to keeping a brothel between November 2004 and November 2008, and was unanimously cleared by a jury of eight men and four women after they had deliberated for just an hour and a half.

The verdicts was greeted with cheers from a large group of supporters who had been present during the four day trial.

Outside court the mother of two said: "This is a victory for women who want to do this work from the safety of their houses.

"This has been 16 months of sheer hell for me but today I have had my own "happy ending".

"I will now do whatever I can to campaign to have the law changed. Thank goodness the jury used their common sense."

She said if she wanted to continue working within the law as it stands today, she would have to work on her own, with the inherent dangers that come with that.

She said she was targeted by police who looked at her property and believed she was profiting from crime. It was officers from the Economic Crime Unit that conducted the inquiry.

"When they realised I was conducting the business correctly, declaring my income and paying tax they went ahead with the brothel charge.

"I don't approve of young girls being prostitutes and being co-erced, or of people trafficking, but if someone like me wants to do this then they should be allowed to do so safely."

Her barrister Anna Morris told the jury that the law was antiquated - drafted in 1956 - and did not reflect public opinion of today. She highlighted 18 incidents of serious violence against sex workers in Bedfordshire over a four year period.

"That is just the tip of the iceberg as most cases do not get reported to police," she said.

Miss Finch's solicitor, Stephen Halloran from Lawton's solicitors in Luton said: "Parliament will no doubt consider how to deal with this issue, and whether they decide the law needs tweaking we will have to wait and see.

"A number of interested groups would welcome clarification and a change in the law."

He said Miss Finch had stood to lose everything financially if she had been convicted.

During her trial Miss Finch told the jury: "I wanted to work with a second person. It is not only safety, it is camaraderie. When I worked with my friend everything was very comfortable. No-one told us what to do. We had a cup of tea and a laugh. There was camaraderie and loyalty when we worked in pairs.

"It wasn't all sex. A lot of clients said they like to come because it was clean and safe."

She described her clients as "very nice people" including police officers, people in IT and accountants. "They are not mac-flashers," she said.

The prosecution allege Ms Finch was running a brothel from the house at Chalton Heights, in the village of Chalton, Beds.

Prosecutor Samantha Cohen said: "A brothel is a premises where sexual services are offered by more than one person."

Adverts in local papers read: "Relaxing body massage in village location Monday to Saturday" and "Astrid's massage, village location Junction 12 of M1."

On a website a fee of £80 was quoted for a full massage and services included: "Foot worship and a lot more."

Miss Finch said the police knew she was operating a massage parlour as she advertised in local papers. Nine years ago she said officers had warned her of a punter who was "doing the rounds" and not paying.

She went on: "There is definite toleration in Luton. A friend of mine works near Luton police station. They had a problem with a gentleman who had a knife. The police were called and told her 'you know where we are'. I don't understand why that happened and they arrested me.

"The police were very well aware we were there. The helicopter used to go round and round overhead if we were sunbathing topless in the garden. I always had a very good rapport. "  

Asked if she every employed foreign nationals or allowed drugs to be taken at her address, she replied: "Absolutely not. Our biggest thrill is cookies. "  She said she was supported by her neighbours who were "great" because she never worked late and had no noisy parties.

She went on to say she was registered as self-employed. "I am one of the few people in this line of work who has an accountant and pays tax."

Read more from Luton on Sunday

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