A medical student who worked as a callgirl is the key witness in a multi-million pound Belfast prostitution case, a lawyer has revealed.
The Belfast woman is studying medicine at a leading Scottish university, it was claimed in court last week.
Details about the woman identified in court only as ‘Witness A' were made public during a failed bail application by Scotsman Malcolm McNeill, who is accused of controlling prostitution and people trafficking.
Witness A claims to have been forced to work as a sex slave in Northern Ireland and Scotland by a crime gang.
She is in protective custody amid concerns for her safety.
But a lawyer for McNeill said the witness was a medical student who was earning big money as an escort.
The young woman’s statements to police form the central part of a high-profile case against two men charged with people trafficking, and two women charged with controlling prostitution.
New details emerged during the bail application by Malcolm McNeill from Forest Avenue in Hamilton.
He is charged with controlling prostitution for gain, trafficking in the UK for sexual exploitation, brothel keeping and converting criminal property.
His former business partner, 33-year-old Stephen Craig from Albert Road in Clydebank, faces the same charges.
The 46-year-old’s bail hearing was told that when the PSNI raided a brothel at Belfast's Queen's Square apartment complex in July they found Witness A inside.
Three other alleged prostitutes were present — a Bolivian woman, university graduate Yvonne Dawson, 22, and 21-year-old Ashleigh Beuken.
Dawson and Beuken were arrested and charged with controlling prostitution.
Witness A and the Bolivian woman, who was named in court as 'Witness B', told detectives they were being forced to work as a sex slaves.
Both have since been entered into a police protection programme after agreeing to give evidence against their alleged traffickers.
Opposing McNeill's bail application, a detective said that when police raided the Queen's Square apartment, which was being rented by the accused, Witness A “screamed” that she was the victim of human trafficking.
“She said the brothel was being controlled by Stephen Craig,” explained the officer.
The same day the PSNI raided two other alleged brothels at the College Court Central apartment complex in Belfast.
Witness B told cops she was forced to work as a hooker at one of these suspected sex dens, which was also being leased by McNeill.
The detective told the court that McNeill and Craig had made numerous trips to Northern Ireland in recent months.
He said that Strathclyde Police have seized £2.3 million worth of assets connected to Craig.
The officer also revealed that there are now eight more witnesses who are prepared to name him as a pimp and human trafficker.
A solicitor for McNeill rejected claims that his client was involved in an international sex slave ring.
Ciaran Toner said that Witness A was from Belfast and is currently a second-year medicine student at a Scottish university.
“She was earning considerable money,” added Mr Toner, referring to her escort work.
He said there was no evidence she had been trafficked and pointed out she had been found by police in an apartment in the city where she grew up.
Mr Toner said that Witness B is a self-confessed Bolivian prostitute who has been resident in the UK for 15 years.
He further explained how McNeill had been in a failed restaurant business with Craig.
He said that his client owed his friend money and agreed to come to Belfast to sign leases on property as a way of paying back the debt.
“He [McNeill] accepts he came to Belfast to sign for leases, but he wasn't aware he was doing anything criminal,” said Mr Toner.
“The police case against my client is tabloid-esque.”
“He has four children, works as a coach driver and has no criminal record. He has never met Witness A or B.
“Look at his bank account. There is absolutely no evidence of an extravagant lifestyle,” added the solicitor.
“He lives with a council house with his partner and two of the children.”
McNeill's sister, Edinburgh-based school inspector Jacqueline Keogh, was prepared to put up her £70,000 flat as a surety if her brother was bailed.
But Magistrate Bernie Kelly rejected the application, saying she was concerned that the alleged pimp could interfere with witnesses.
The Belfast court had earlier heard from police that “threats and intimidation have been used already against the victims”.
The hearing was also told that “they are known to the applicant, who will have no difficulty tracking them down”.