A convicted pimp who continued running four brothels, including one in Altrincham, after being taken to court, was jailed yesterday amid claims officers "turned a blind eye" to his business.

Ian Barnett, 56, claimed he ran the brothels - with an annual turnover of £2.5million - with the full knowledge of police, but was arrested after hiring a teenage trafficking victim.

He claimed he had transferred the lease for the brothels to an employee and no longer had anything to do with the business after his arrest.

He escaped jail after a judge ruled there were "exceptional circumstances" because police had a policy allowing him to run the brothels as long as he attended meetings and no public complaints were received.

But months later, he was re-arrested after it emerged he transferred the lease to manager Carole Duncan to convince police he no longer owned them, while he continued to run them and pocket the profits.

Yesterday, Barnett, of Ingledene Avenue, Salford, Greater Manchester was sentenced to three years and eight months in prison, after admitting keeping brothels, controlling prostitution and living on immoral means.

Carole Duncan, who pleaded guilty to keeping brothels, will be sentenced in March.

Manchester Crown Court heard how Barnett ran two brothels at the time of his first arrest - Dolly Mixtures, in Shudehill, and Foreign Touch in Cheetham Hill. He later took on another Manchester parlour, and a further, Angels, in Altrincham.

He was arrested in 2003 following the discovery of a trafficked girl at Dolly Mixtures.

Tina Landale said: "He asked Carole Duncan to manage the brothels for him while he retained an interest in them from a distance.

"He admitted being the owner of three brothles. He admitted each was a brothel or massage parlour offering sexual services by prostitutes and that he was responsible for employing the people working there.

"He admitted advertising them and described the financial workings and systems of payment to receptionist and how the money was divided between the prostitute and the brothel.

"He was interviewed again and warned that if he continued to run the brothels he might be further prosecuted."

Despite the warning, the court heard how he remained the "main beneficiary" of the businesses, taking £2,500 a week plus bonuses from the profits of up to £300,000 a month.

But another investigation was launched after a Lithuanian girl known as Rita who worked at the brothel was found to have been trafficked into the country by a gang of Albanians.

She had been lured to the country from her poor background with the promise of paid work as a cleaner, but was was sold into prostitution and forced to work in the brothel.

Six people, including a man known to Barnett were jailed in 2006 for their part in trafficking the woman, along with a second girl who was held in a house in Crumpsall, North Manchester. Barnett was said to have visited one of the gang, Ilir Elezi, at that cafe he ran in Crumpsall.

Miss Landale said: "Once there, Rita had to sit with other prostitutes on a couch until customers chose her.

"Her identity documents were taken from her and retained by Carole Duncan, and were in her purse at the time of her arrest. A photocopy of it was found at Ian Barnett's home when he was arrested in December 2005.

"In interview, he admitted he had written on the documentation.

"The prosecution say that he was still involved in the daily running of the brothel."

The court heard how Barnett was arrested after Rita was rescued by two Polish men who had visited the brothel and spoken to her in Russian. They followed her as she left following a shift and alerted police.

Booking sheets recovered from Carole Duncan's home showed Rita had been used as a prostitute by paying clients several times.

Miss Landale said: "Ian Barnett visited the brothel on the first night she was there and took her photo without her knowledge or consent and put the picture of her on the internet to advertise her as a prostitute at the brothel.

"When police searched his house they found computer equipment. An expert discovered her photo together with others had been taken by a camera of an identical type to that discovered in Ian Barnett's Rolls Royce.

"In some of the photos, a reflection of Ian Barnett as the photographer can be seen."

Police searched the brothel in December 2005 and found envelopes of cash marked with the names of girls working there, booking sheets and details of the sale of videos, poppers and viagra.

Customers were shown to pay £70 for an hour or £40 for 30 minutes, with a cut going to the house.

When Barnett was arrested in December 2005, he had a key to the safe, which contained more envelopes of money.

A search of his home recovered documents, receipts and bills for the brothels, and £6,700 cash in envelopes marked with his name and the name of a brothel. There were also photocopies of identity documents for 48 foreign girls who worked at the brothels.

Miss Landale said: "When he was interviewed he said he was no longer involved in running the brothels since June 2005.

"But there was evidence of a transfer of the lease to Carole Duncan and others from then onwards. The prosecution case is was that this was a clear attempt by the defendant to give the impression he was not involved, bearing in mind he was already being prosecuted.

"It was a smoke screen he was hiding behind. He was still visiting the premises and was keeping in touch and directing operations."

Records of internet chatroom conversations recovered from his computer were said to show Barnett had chatted to clients, talking about his "parlours".

But in another typed conversation with his daughter Emma, he said he was no longer involved with whores.

Miss Landale said: "He did not want his daughter to know of his dealings with them at the coal face."

His phone records showed thousands of calls and texts between him and Carole Duncan.

Officers also discovered large sums of money passing through his bank accounts, believed to be profits from the brothels. He told the Inland Revenue the money came from massage parlours.

Duncan was arrested in January 2007 and admitted managing the brothels under Barnett's direction, while he took weekly payouts.

The court heard how Barnett had previously been given a suspended prison sentence for running the brothels, after claiming police had a policy of "turning a blind eye" to his dealings.

He said he had attended regular meetings between the council, police and massage parlour owners and had supplied information to officers. But because there were no complaints to the police about his premises, they did not intervene.

Miss Langdale said: "The prosecution deny that there is any such policy. The prosecution say that the police's approach to policing brothels is complaint or intelligence-driven, bearing in mind the massive demands on the police and their resources.

"The prosecution say the defendant was warned he might be prosecuted on four separate occasions between November 2003 and March 2005.

But Mark Benson, defending said Greater Manchester still operated the policy outlined in a Home Office document entitled "For Love or Money: Pimps and the Management of Sex Workers."

He said: "The police did not intervene if any brothel keeping was taking place. They visited the premises and gave certain advice.

"Meetings were organised by the authorities as to what practices were and were not acceptable.

"In doing so the police were effectively adopting an approach set out in the Home Office document."

He said Greater Manchester Police were focusing their efforts on street prostitution, and were only intervening in brothels if there were public complaints about drugs or underage prostitutes.

He said: "GMP are continuing to practise a policy of turning a blind eye to off-street prostitution taking place in massage parlours providing unwritten rules are followed."

He said Barnett had continued to assist the police with information about foreign girls.

He was said to have systems in place to ensure he did not hire trafficked girls.

Mr Benson said: "There was no pressure put on Rita. He was not aware that she had neem trafficked by others. There was ample evidence that he did take steps, but regrettably they failed in Rita's case."

Sentencing Barnett, Judge Anthony Ensor said: "I accept that the police were aware of your illegal activities and acted in such a way that we could have been reasonably misleading as to whether you would be prosecuted.

"Although you claimed the police turned a blind eye to your activities as to running a brothel, there is no doubt that at your interview and in the presence of your solicitor the police warned you quite clearly that they did not condone your activities and that you might be prosecuted if you continued.

"On any view this was trading in brothels on a breathtaking scale.

"You continued to run these brothels after the warnings on the police.

"This is a vile trade undertaken by an evil, immoral man."

Police said they would now apply to seize his assests under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

After the case, Det Chief Insp Michael Fraser, of Greater Manchester Police said: "This has been a very long protracted enquiry conducted by a small team of officers including staff from the Sex Crimes Unit of GMP.

"I hope it provides some satisfaction to the victim for the trauma and suffering she had to endure, firstly at the hands of an Albanian crime gang and secondly at the hands of Barnett whose sole motivation was greed and making money with no concern whatsoever for the plight and welfare of the victim."