MASTERMINDS behind a transsexual prostitution ring who pocketed £17,000 in their four-year pursuit have not been jailed.

Leon Foster and Angel Gomes were handed suspended sentences after admitting hiring foreign prostitutes to work in the city.

But the pair, who are in a civil partnership, were told they must pay back the thousands of pounds they gained from the business within three months.

Sentencing at Oxford Crown Court on Tuesday, Deputy Circuit Judge Patrick Eccles QC said the defendants believed they were “helping” the prostitutes and did not “coerce” them.

He added: “It is right to say, in my view, that this is not a conventional case of outright pimping and living off the earnings of prostitutes that the courts conventionally come across.

“[This is] not a case of hard-heartened brothel owners exploiting vulnerable women but extremely misguided individuals.”

Prosecutor Charles Ward-Jackson said the couple-of-14-years launched business “Kelly Shemales”, advertising pre-op transsexuals as prostitutes in 2010.

He said Gomes, also known as Kelly, used contacts in South America to arrange for prostitutes to fly to the UK to meet clients in hotels or flats rented by the couple, including one in Duke Street, Oxford.

The court heard the prostitutes charged £90 for half-an-hour or £130 for one hour, with the defendants pocketing half of the cash.

Mr Ward-Jackson said “pre-op transsexual” Gomes, a former sex worker from Brazil, was in contact with prostitutes daily, responsible for “looking after” them when in the UK.

Foster, who is from New Zealand, was in charge of the money, paying the rent for their properties, as well as for travel expenses and “sexual aids”.

Police discovered the operation after one prostitute revealed she had been working in the couple’s Oxford flat on July 23, 2014.

Mr Ward-Jackson said Foster, 42, was arrested after turning up a the Oxford flat while officers were searching it, while Gomes, 50, later surrendered to police.

Brenda Campbell, defending Foster, said the pair were offering a “safe environment” for their friends and associates by running the business.

She said Foster, who runs a stage management company which has worked with Manchester City Council, added: “He did not realise the criminality of what was happening.”

Liam Walker, defending Gomes, said his client came to the UK after suffering hostility over her gender and sexuality in 1995, later becoming a sex worker to save cash for gender reassignment surgery.

He added the business was designed to “serve and protect rather than exploit”.

Foster and Goms, of England Way, New Malden, Surrey, pleaded guilty to controlling prostitution for gain and entering into or becoming concerned with the acquisition, retention or control of criminal property between November 1, 2011, and July 30, 2014.

Both were handed a 12-month sentence, suspended for 12 months, ordered to undertake 100 hours unpaid work, made subject to a two-month electronically tagged curfew, and told to pay £500 costs and a victim surcharge.