Three years for Britain's biggest brothel keeper

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AN AVID collector of football programmes was revealed yesterday as Britain's biggest brothel keeper.

John Smith, 35, who made an estimated pounds 3m in less than three years from running up to 32 brothels throughout south-east England, was jailed for three years after a long-running police operation. His brothels were found in Fulham in west London, Soho, Luton, Watford, Dartford and Gillingham in Kent, Slough, and other suburban and central city areas.

Mr Smith charged each prostitute who worked from his rented flats pounds 150 a day. The women charged from pounds 30 to pounds 100 for sex and saw up to 30 customers a day.

Scotland Yard's vice squad officers were alerted to the empire of brothels in the summer of 1998 and launched an undercover operation. They discovered that Smith maintains a series of complex aliases with false identification papers, fake companies and offshore banks, including an account in Malta. They found that he employed 45 women to run his organisation and paid the rent and bills on the flats as well as providing advertising in newspapers for the prostitutes' services.

Smith was an unlikely big-time brother keeper. He lived in Weybridge, Surrey, in a house worth pounds 230,000, which he paid for in cash from a Maltese bank. He also owned a pounds 20,000 sports car, which he had bought with cash.

But the love of his life was football programmes. He was an avid collector of programmes from Rangers matches. Originally from Glasgow, he kept thousands of programmes in boxes in his house and garage. He was a single man, and police found his house sparsely decorated and furnished, except for a television and video.

On investigating his finances, they estimate that his turnover was pounds 3m from the summer of 1996 to January 1999. Most of his money is believed to be kept in hidden bank accounts in foreign banks.

Police say that he used the threat of violence to control the prostitutes, all of whom were experienced in selling sex. He told the women he had fought in the Falklands conflict and was prepared to use physical force. However, police found the military claim was a lie.

The police launched Operation Rappel, in which they visited several brothels to discover what services were available. They also secretly monitored clients using the premises.

Smith was finally arrested on 7 April while visiting a motor museum in Surrey with his elderly parents - who, it transpired, had no idea of their son's profession: he had claimed to be a carpenter.

Chief Inspector Chris Bradford, the deputy commander of Scotland Yard's clubs and vice squad, said yesterday: "[Smith] certainly is the biggest brothel keeper we have ever dealt with. He was really big time. It was quite a massive operation that we have not come across before, certainly not on that scale." He described Smith as "a loner. He would not be the life of a party."

Smith pleaded guilty to a single sample charge of living off prostitution, having forged documents and possessing a bullet, for which he received a combined sentence of three years. A member of his staff, Margaret Mock, pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting Smith. She will be sentenced later.