How police turned a blind eye to couple’s £3.8million brothel empireFebruary 9, 2019
Green light to the Red Light: How police turned a blind eye to a married couple’s £3.8million suburban brothel empire called ‘Sandy’s Superstars’ and even visiting tax inspectors took their cut
- Married couple Mark Hankin and Sandra Hankin ran a £3.8million brothel empire
- They and two others received suspended sentences for keeping brothels
- Tax inspectors were all too happy to take their cut – and police turned a blind eye
- The couple have now been ordered to pay back £350,000 under proceeds of crime orders
There was much excitement when plans were unveiled for Sandy’s Health Studios in the suburbs of Manchester more than a decade ago.
The establishment, ideally positioned on the High Street in Northenden, would feature cardiovascular and hydrotherapy suites and — perhaps most impressively — a eucalyptus steam room.
‘I had every intention of taking my seven-year-old daughter,’ one mum was quoted as saying in the local paper at the time.
Mark Hankin and Sandra Hankin are pictured leaving Manchester Magistrates’ Court last week. They appeared in the dock alongside two accomplices, Adrian Burch, 44, and Alison Sutton, 54. All of them pleaded guilty to brothel keeping and were given suspended prison sentences
Imagine her surprise — and shock — when she turned up to get more information about the facilities and the much-publicised ‘family membership’ package and was greeted instead by a sign which said ‘Gentlemen Only’.
Inside, at ‘reception’ were catalogues setting out exactly what kind of ‘pampering services’ were on offer, not from health spa professionals, of course, but from women like blonde ‘Emily’ (34C-24-34), a ‘gorgeous young lady in her mid-20s’ who has ‘a sweet, charming and caring nature that will put the most nervous client at ease’.
Pictured standing next to a piano in black lingerie, her ‘skills’ — customers were informed — included ‘kissing, fantasies, mild domination and foot worship’. Emily also offered a ‘girlfriend experience’ (hence the reference to her ‘caring nature’, presumably).
In all, a roster of 50-plus girls, listed in alphabetical order from ‘Abbie’ to ‘Vogue’ worked in shifts, seven days a week, at Sandy’s Health Studios which was now trading as Sandy’s Superstars; Sandy being Sandra Hankin, a former dental nurse turned madam, who ran the premises next to a hairdressing salon.
The revelation caused consternation. The local vicar said staff at bona fide businesses and shops were being pestered by men wanting massages with ‘all the extras’ and, along with Northenden Civic Society, called for Sandra Hankin to be prosecuted.
Two companies were set up to manage the enterprise, with one turning over £1,944,000 between 2011 and 2014, and the other £1,804,000 —the proceeds of crime, lest we forget — and the Hankins enjoyed an enviable lifestyle with their daughter on the back of it. They lived in a beautiful thatched cottage, behind electronic gates, in North Wales (above), drove expensive vehicles (Jaguars, Range Rovers) and enjoyed frequent holidays [File photo]
In England and Wales, it is not illegal to buy or sell sex, but it is against the law to operate a brothel. Sandy’s Superstars, just to reiterate, was situated on a busy shopping thoroughfare, not the back alleyways, with ‘house charges of £50 for 30 minutes and £100 for an hour’.
Still, police decided to do nothing. Or, to be more precise, they came to an agreement with Mrs Hankin that she could continue as long she never used underage girls or trafficked women, and her activities weren’t used as a front for other crime; she kept her side of the bargain as far as the authorities were concerned.
Her prostitutes had regular NHS health checks. Her bouncers were accredited by the Home Office-approved Security Industry Authority. Council officials carried out regular checks. Her business even paid tax and was visited by inspectors from tax authority HMRC — in other words, Sandy’s Superstars was really a licensed brothel in all but name.
So what was life like at Sandy’s Superstars for the girls? Back in 2010, psychiatrist Dr Adam Osborne — brother of the then Chancellor George Osborne — was famously found guilty of misconduct by the General Medical Council for secretly prescribing anti-psychotic medication to a woman who was not his patient to stop hallucinations she suffered as a result of her £750-a-week cocaine habit.
She was 21 and worked at Sandy’s Superstars. ‘I was expected to get around 12 to 15 clients a day,’ she said in an interview with the News of the World. ‘The money was great, but the pressure was intense.’ However, this isn’t just a story about Sandy’s Superstars.
The pragmatic policy, pursued by Greater Manchester Police, has been quietly adopted across the country. Indeed, the latest guidance from the National Police Chiefs’ Council states: ‘Brothel closures and raids create a mistrust of all external agencies . . . it is difficult to rebuild trust and ultimately reduces the amount of intelligence submitted to the police and puts sex workers at greater risk.’
The tactics, tantamount, it could be said, to giving the green light to the red light trade, will fiercely divide opinion between those who believe that our overstretched police have more urgent priorities than closing down so-called ‘well-run brothels’, and those who argue most passionately, including many feminists, that prostitution — either on the street or behind the curtains of Sandy’s Superstars — is intrinsically exploitative and abhorrent and demands a zero-tolerance approach.
Either way, what is undeniable is that the strategy has proved hugely problematic, both morally and legally, especially in Manchester where Sandy’s Superstars is at the centre of controversy once more.
Her business even paid tax and was visited by inspectors from tax authority HMRC — in other words, Sandy’s Superstars was really a licensed brothel in all but name [File photo]
Because last week, 14 years on — long after the furore had died down — Sandra Hankin, 55, finally appeared in the dock at Minshull Crown Court in Manchester with her husband Christopher Hankin, 57, and two accomplices, Adrian Burch, 44, and Alison Sutton, 54.
All of them pleaded guilty to brothel keeping and were given suspended prison sentences. Some unpalatable facts emerged in court. Sandy’s Superstars had expanded and turned into a £3.8 million empire with another branch on the other side of the city in Prestwich.
Two companies were set up to manage the enterprise, with one turning over £1,944,000 between 2011 and 2014, and the other £1,804,000 —the proceeds of crime, lest we forget — and the Hankins enjoyed an enviable lifestyle with their daughter on the back of it.
They lived in a beautiful thatched cottage, behind electronic gates, in North Wales, drove expensive vehicles (Jaguars, Range Rovers) and enjoyed frequent holidays.
The extent of official acquiescence extended towards the couple is highlighted by the last set of accounts for the Northenden brothel, which is still called Sandy’s Health Studios (specialising in ‘physical wellbeing activities’) at Companies House, and show a corporation tax liability of £27,259 in 2016 and 2017.
So, in a two-year period alone, £54,518 of ‘dirty money’ — a fraction of the overall tax bill down the years — made from girls like the aforementioned ‘Emily’, went to HMRC; surely, few can be comfortable with that.
Last night, the HMRC said it does not comment on individual cases.
But an HMRC manual states: ‘If the activities of a prostitute or any other person deriving income from prostitution are organised in such a way as to constitute a trade or profession, the profits are liable to tax.’
In recent years, a HMRC taskforce has netted thousands of pounds in unpaid taxes in a crackdown on the growing number of online escort agencies — simply a euphemism for brothels in many instances.
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But back to the saga of Sandy’s Superstars. There is a further, more farcical twist to report.
The Prestwich ‘branch’, shut down with its counterpart in Northenden in 2016, has now been replaced by another brothel, 50 Shades Massage (‘Manchester’s favourite playroom’) at exactly the same address with the same phone number as before.
The ‘new’ establishment, reached down an alley next to the side of Tesco Direct, even has a Twitter feed which reminds punters that the venue is, in fact, in the ‘former Sandy’s Superstars building’.
‘The same sort come here,’ explained a young mum pushing her pram while glaring at a smartly dressed man who had just emerged from the premises and was walking towards his BMW. ‘They arrive in flash cars and park anywhere they like, including in front of my house, they are so desperate to go in.’
Is it possible Sandra Hankin is running 50 Shades Massage? The freehold of the site is owned by an elderly woman from North Yorkshire who was unable to be contacted this week and Mrs Hankin’s husband didn’t wish to comment when we caught up with him as he came out of his Denbighshire pile to walk his two Doberman dogs.
Sandy’s Superstars was, apparently, the ‘most reported establishment on Punternet’ (the ‘TripAdvisor’ for the vice trade).
Sandra Hankin, who interviewed the girls (from their online ‘biographies’, they appear to be almost all British) was portrayed in court as an almost saintly figure.
She worked in a variety of jobs, including dental nurse and retail assistant, before becoming an escort in the late Nineties with the support of her engineer husband. It was a dangerous occupation and ‘working women’ were given no security. The exact words of Sandra’s barrister were that: ‘Sandra prayed these conditions would change.’
At Sandy’s Superstars, the court heard, Hankin ensured rooms had showers, freshly laundered linen and complimentary towels, as well as CCTV. There was a ban on drugs, alcohol and smoking.
‘There is no evidence of force or encouragement to work beyond their capacity,’ her barrister stressed in mitigation. ‘The regrettable aspect of other companies was to implement this for maximum profit.’
Note the way the prostitution is normalised in her address as if the girls at Sandy’s Superstars were working in an office, not a brothel.
Indeed, soon after the Northenden ‘branch’ opened, a file of evidence detailing activities on the premises was sent to the Crown Prosecution Service, the Manchester Evening News reported.
‘There are possible offenders among people who work on the premises and the people who manage the premises,’ a police spokesman told the paper. ‘The matter is in our hands and is being put through the right channels.’
Given the events that followed, it is reasonable to assume the ‘possible offenders’ at Sandy’s Superstars were never charged.
In all, a roster of 50-plus girls, listed in alphabetical order from ‘Abbie’ to ‘Vogue’ worked in shifts, seven days a week, at Sandy’s Health Studios which was now trading as Sandy’s Superstars [File photo]
Sandra Hankin organised the rota and was the ‘big cheese’ of the enterprise, running it with an ‘iron fist’, the prosecuting barrister said shortly before she, her husband and their accomplices were sentenced, which, again, rather casts doubt on the defence’s description of Sandra Hankin as a ‘kind and generous’ soul.
There is one crucial question at the heart of these events: why, after 14 years, did Greater Manchester Police (GMP) finally move against Sandy’s Superstars?
One clue lies perhaps in the raid that took place at the home of the brothel’s website manager Adrian Burch on farmland on the outskirts of Greater Manchester in 2016; the officers who stormed the property were from an armed response team.
‘A number of complaints led GMP to investigate the activities at the premises,’ the force said in a statement. ‘On this occasion, action was deemed necessary due to concerns over money laundering.
‘Intelligence may lead us to believe it is also necessary to use armed officers when entering an address. However, the decision is not taken lightly.’
Burch, according to a serving police source, was an experienced ‘pimp’ who had managed brothels before. Nevertheless, all the main players behind Sandy’s Superstars were initially charged with money laundering — ‘the concealment of the origins of illegally obtained money’.
Even without direct evidence of a link to organised crime, the fact vast profits were being made from brothels masquerading, on paper, at least, as legitimate businesses, meant there was prima facie evidence of money laundering and, potentially, tougher sentences.
Except the police had already been compromised. Defence barristers claimed it would be an abuse of process to charge their clients with money laundering when the police had ‘permitted the operation of the premises’ for so long ‘without arrest’.
In 2007, the case against the owner and staff of a ‘sauna’ in Sheffield was thrown out for this reason; they had enjoyed the same relationship with the police as Sandy’s Superstars until they were suspected of ‘breaking the rules’ by employing illegal immigrants.
‘It must, at the very least,’ the judge said, ‘have created in the minds of the sauna operators over several years a reasonable and legitimate expectation that their activities were at best tolerated and they would not be prosecuted, provided they abided by the rules.’
In the latest case, money laundering charges were dropped but Sandra Hankin and her ‘partners’ admitted the offence of keeping brothels and were each given sentences of between four and six months suspended for two years. It would be hard to find a more glaring example of the inherent pitfalls involved in the policy of not enforcing the law to begin with in relation to establishments such as Sandy’s Superstars which could have had implications well beyond Manchester.
At their previous home in Chester, a detached house with its own stables, where they lived until 2014, the Hankins are not fondly remembered; neighbours described them as ‘horrible’.
Sandra Hankin and her husband have now been ordered to pay back £350,000 under proceeds of crime orders. Few will have much sympathy for them.
But isn’t there a hint of hypocrisy about all this, considering HMRC has been benefiting from the proceeds of crime for many years, in the form of corporation tax, from Sandy’s Health Studios?
Additional reporting: Mark Branagan
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