Spearmint Rhino hires ex-detective to clean up club's act

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The Independent Online

Spearmint Rhino, the world-famous chain of lapdancing clubs has hired a former Scotland Yard detective to help clean up its act. And Graham Melvin, a former chief superintendent, is facing what could be prove to be his toughest case yet.

The self-styled gentlemen's entertainment venues have been dogged by allegations of prostitution and unlawful employment practices since the opening of its first club in Britain four years ago. Much of its reputation stems from America where its founder, John Gray, has a string of criminal convictions ranging from carrying a concealed weapon to writing dud cheques.

The most pressing task for Mr Melvin - who led the investigation that led to the wrongful conviction of Winston Silcott for the murder of PC Keith Blakelock during the Broadwater Farm riots in 1985 - is to convince Camden council in London that the Spearmint Rhino club in Tottenham Court Road is an establishment that deserves a new public entertainment licence.

He can expect a rough ride tonight when he appears before a council licensing committee. In recent months, there have been a number of complaints about the club, mostly stirred up by bad publicity concerning raunchy behaviour between the dancers and their clients.

In 2002, an undercover police operation found evidence that dancers simulating sex were in breach of the club's "no touching" rule. Two of the officers were offered sex with women at £500 for 30 minutes in a private room, police told Highbury Corner magistrates' court last year when presenting their evidence opposing the granting of a new drinking licence.

Chief Inspector Ken Withers, who visited the premises in Tottenham Court Road, said he had "grave concerns" about the running of the club.

Spearmint Rhino hopes that by recruiting the experienced Mr Melvin, 62, it will be able to fight fire with fire. Mr Melvin said: "I think you will find it is a very well-run operation, one of the finest-run in the West End.

"All the dancers' IDs are properly checked out before we employ them and we strictly enforce the no-touching code. We've even brought in our own 'mystery shoppers' who pretend to be customers and a copy of their report goes to Clubs and Vice (a branch of the Metropolitan Police). We have a strict drugs policy and, in any case, this place does not attract those kind of people."

After the Court of Appeal cleared Silcott of the Broadwater Farm murder, Mr Melvin found himself in the dock charged with fabricating evidence. He was cleared in 1994.

Before that, he was perhaps best known for trapping the Stockwell Strangler, who attacked and murdered elderly women in south London in the late 1980s.

He has served in the Flying Squad, investigated gangland murders and commanded the investigation into the 1983 Brink's-Mat gold bullion theft. In 1997, he was part of a team of experts who proved that Tutankhamun was murdered 3,000 years ago.