This was a backgrounder to a long-running court case I covered at the end of 2003. A serving police officer had been using the services of a violent pimp in return for access to the force's computer. The case highlighted how the vice trade operated in a city that is not blighted by an obvious 'red light' district.
This week a North police officer was jailed on corruption charges for protecting millionaire pimp 'Turbo' Tommy Hay. Paul McMillan reports on the region's vice scene and reveals how Hay ran his sordid prostitution racket.
Not since the mid-sixties has Tyneside had a red light district but the region's seedy underbelly remains just a phone call away.
With its force area untouched by the street walkers which have shamed cities like Middlesbrough, Northumbria Police disbanded its vice squad when it was reorganised in 1993.
Now officers concentrate investigations on brothels where they know women are selling sex. But unless they can prove that one exists, they cannot prosecute. Prostitution itself is not illegal but living on its earnings is a serious offence.
During the trial of former PC Graham Brown, it was revealed how pimps like Thomas Hay make a fortune from enslaving young women in a life of drugs and vice while they walk away with the lucrative profits.
A possession order which put his earnings at £1m was mentioned during his trial but Hay claimed the amount pocketed was far less.
The court heard how he was said to have kept a running total of the money made on his mobile phone under the entry "PIN". At the time of his arrest that figure read £73,000.
His operation was sophisticated, backed by a network of employees or those willing to help for a bribe. The court was told up to £540 a week would be spent on four classified adverts in the massage parlour column of a down-market national newspaper advertising his "escorts". An additional £100 a week was spent on similar adverts in the regional press.
These would give a mobile number, one of Hay's "graft phones", where clients would ring up and ask for a girl to be sent to them or arrange a visit to whichever brothel he was running at the time.
A string of addresses in the Newcastle and Gateshead area were mentioned in court.
Customers were charged £60 for a half hour and £90 for an hour but up to £160 if they wanted extra sex acts. Hays' prostitutes said he took half then later all the money for acting as their pimp.
Business was always busy as tearful prostitutes revealed how he made them work every day of the week in an area from Hexham to Middlesbrough.
One woman told the court she was only allowed one day off in 2001 and had even been made to work on her 21st birthday.
But aside from the adverts, visitors to the region were enticed with business cards which Hay ensured were distributed to a network of hotel night porters and taxi drivers willing to take a pay-off. Under cross examination, he admitted the arrangement existed to Brown's barrister Paul Sloan.
Mr Sloan said: "What you would do is give your girls' calling cards out to taxi drivers and night porters in the hope that if a man asked, 'Where can we get a girl?', they could pass on your card.
"If you got customers like that, night porters would get a back hander obviously so you had some night porters in your pocket."
Hays replied: "Not in my pocket. It was a business arrangement."
During the trial it was revealed girls had been sent to the Malmaison and the Holiday Inn, both in Newcastle. Detectives even found the number for the Malmaison hotel stored in one of the "graft" phones.
But it was also not unknown for the girls, who were usually hooked on drugs, to steal customers' wallets with Hay's knowledge. When they finally broke free of his operation, the girls' sense of relief was immense.
December 11, 2003