A Southampton woman accused of running a high-class brothel has told a court: “the women were in control”.

Marie McKinlay, 40, is alleged to have employed up to 25 high class hookers who could provide anything from “girlfriend experience to porn star experience”.

Prosecutors claim clients at Agency Allure were charged between £300 an hour and £1,500 for a 14-hour overnight booking, which “must include some sleep”.

Giving evidence McKinlay, who denies controlling the lucrative prostitution ring, told Southwark Crown Court she formed the agency in 2002 with five other women.

She said that by the following year she was the only remaining founder member and following the birth of her first child she had taken over the administrative side of the business.

“When I realised I was pregnant I had to stop escorting,” she said.

“I was already doing all the admin so we agreed by mutual consent that's what I would keep doing.

“Everybody who was on the site was paying the commission which was going back to advertise the site.

“It was not a large turnover so whatever was left after the advertising I kept.

“There were no shifts, we could start whenever we wanted, finish whenever we wanted.

“The whole idea was that we as women were in control of where we were.”

McKinlay said she began work as hostess in her mid-twenties at the Stork Club, in Piccadilly, after a stint as a wardrobe assistant on the West End production of Miss Saigon.

McKinlay told the court she then worked as an escort both independently and for a woman based in South Kensington before setting up Allure.

Earlier the court heard that whena sked why she began in the vice trade, she said: “I've been asked this question many times over the years and the way I answer it is, my two favourite things in the world are money and sex, I absolutely love both of them, and a job that allows me to put them both together, why wouldn't I?”

Mark Seymour, defending McKinlay, asked what she saw her role as at Allure.

She replied: “I found clients for them, which is what they asked me to do.”

Mr Seymour asked: “Who employed who?”

McKinlay said: “In real terms nobody employs anybody. There are no contracts.”

Prosecutors allege McKinlay, who was detained at an address in Southampton in July 2011, banked more than £350,000 in profits from the racket.

McKinlay, now of Ladywell Grove, Lewisham, southeast London, denies controlling prostitution for gain and converting criminal property between December 2008 and July 2011.