Naturists Campaigning for Naturism

Change S5 Campaign

After the publication of the article on Steve Gough in April a few comments were made here, which were broadly supportive. Oddly enough, not long afterwards – and purely by coincidence – Gough came up as a topic of conversation on the Yahoo group forum, naturists UK that confirmed my opinion on how divisive he is among naturists and I don’t suppose it will end any time soon.

I have no intention to go over old ground, however I would like to pursue an idea that was put forward (by Peter Knight, as it happens) among the comments; that we should use Gough’s plight in Scotland to gain publicity about the wider problems naturists have when they encounter the justice system. We could, and I believe we should.

Gough is held under the common law offence of breach of the (monarch’s) peace, which the Court of Appeal in R v Howell, has defined as: ‘an act done or threatened to be done which either actually harms a person, or in his presence, his property, or is likely to cause such harm being done.’ [1] However, following Bibby v Chief Constable of Essex, it is not only the perpetrator that can be arrested but a potential victim as well. [2] Of course any arrest for breach of the peace will be examined closely, but lets face it, on the majority of occasions police officers judge the situation well and they get it right. However, it is the few times they don’t, involving lawful nudity that interests us. As it is written, the law can allow the officer to be influenced by his or her own personal prejudices when making such decisions and if they include stereotypical assumptions about a naked person then there is the potential for an injustice can occur.

Similarly, section 5 of the Public Order Act states that an offence occurs when: “a person uses words or behaviour or displays any writing, sign or other representation that is insulting within hearing or sight of another person and likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress in that person.” It is the word insulting that is of interest, as this too is open to interpretation. What is insulting to me might not be to you and it is his “insulting behaviour” that led to the conviction of Richard Collins earlier this year. The Home Office is currently look at the wording of section 5 and Duncan Heenan, on behalf of the Naturist Action Group, has sent a submission supporting the removal of the word ‘insulting’, which tightens the law considerably by raising the bar before conviction. Duncan has also made contact with a public campaign, led by David Davis MP, former shadow Home Secretary, who with the support of 64 other MPs from across the political spectrum is campaigning in favour of the word’s removal [3] and written to James Chapman, political editor of the Daily Mail, following their public support of the campaign. In his letter, Duncan wrote, referring to the Collins case: ‘During the trial and appeal, virtually every part of the prosecution’s case was destroyed until the judge prompted the witness to say she had been ‘insulted’ by seeing Mr. Collins naked off the beach – a word she had not used up to that point.’ As we know, nudity by itself is not insulting, but the actions that are associated with it could make it so, and Collins was getting dressed at the time.

The website also has an illustration of the abuse of section 5 that has a strangely familiar ring to it. It tells of animal rights protestors who illustrated their opposition to the culling of seal cubs by displaying toy seals splashed by red food dye, but were warned by police that two members of the public found their protest distressing and ordered them to move on. How often have we heard about the “insulted” dog walker, who disappears and with little or no attempt to find her (it is usually her), and is never found to make an official complaint?

Support for the reform section 5 campaign comes from a group of organisations that are as diverse as The Christian Institute and the National Secular Society, and by individuals as far apart as Peter Tatchell and Nigel Farage. By joining such a public campaign, the Naturist Action Group is showing that naturism and naturists are a part of society, not divorced from it, and it does not need special approval. Yet, there is only so much that one person can do, so I am going to end this piece by asking for your help. While the directors of the Naturist Action Group are very appreciative of your interest in our efforts, we need more than that. Campaigning takes time and effort, and as the old saying goes: many hands make light work. Even if you can only commit just an hour per week, for any of our other projects, it would be gratefully received. It is amazing what can be done in that time. We also need donations of money to pay for out of pocket expenses for those volunteers who attend court, as observers, or meetings around the country. With your help, we can start to make a difference to how naturism and naturists are perceived by the general public and we won’t have hide any more.


9 Responses to Change S5 Campaign

  • by removing the word “insulting” would that just be replaced by “likely to cause distress”?

  • The simple answer is, we don’t know. We need to keep a watch for the next stage of the process and answer accordingly.

  • It is removing the word insulting which is the only change we are likely to get in the near future because that is the subject of the Government consultation that has been going on over recent months. In my contribution to the consultation and in my dealings with my MP I have been pointing out that it’s not really the law which is wrong, but the fragrent abuse of it by police, CPS and magistrates and the only way to stop that abuse would be to completely repeal Section 5 (which won’t happen).
    When I was convicted under Section 5 it seems that I was guilty because I caused distress (probably not true) and that was sufficient for a conviction. It didn’t seem necessary to prove behaviour was insulting etc. We are attempting to appeal the decision to the High Court, but the local court is following up their ignorance of the law by ignoring the requirements to resond to the aplication to appeal. My Solicitor is looking into the procedures but it looks as if we will need to go to court to make the court fulfil their legal obligations.
    Getting rid of the term insulting won’t help much because they will just decide the behaviour is disorderly; another term open to abuse by police and magistrates.
    A big campaign is needed so that the public are aware thet nudity isn’t a crime under present legislation and so that police and CPS become aware that anyone arrested and eventually charged under Section 5 (arrests are usually under SOA or non-existent offences such as indecent exposure) will not accept a caution, will plead not guilty and will appeal against any decisions of the lower courts. Events such as the Trafalgar Square 4th plinth and WNBR have educated some police in London, but the ignorance of the law outside London is appalling. It’s difficult to get campaigns going since so many naturists are afraid to ‘come out’. High profile campaigns are needed. The more liberal attitudes in countries like Denmark were achieved with big campaigns, in particular regular naked wade-ins on textile beaches.
    We won’t get a significant change in the law, what we need is a significant change in attitude from police and magistrates and this won’t happen unless we force it on them. We won’t get it by hiding away and complaining.
    Brian Johnson

  • At last someone else has come to conclusion that section 5 cannot be modified it needs to be completly scrapped then written again with human rights issues considered.just messing about with one word just will not work> As a substitute word would be used. (english is a wonderfull language)

  • Marie Woolf, Sunday Times Whitehall Editor, writes that Government sources said repeal was “long overdue” and the status quo was backed by “just a few civil servants and some police officers”.

    A spokesman for Clegg said: “It is something that has support on all sides of the house. It would be a sensible move to repeal it.”

    The House of Lords will debate the issue on Wednesday night, 4th July.

    This information from:

  • I totally agree with you Ancient Brit, Brian, about the need for big campaigns, wade-ins sound great. Freedoms have to be won – think about slavery, womens rights and sexual freedom – achievements have been made through action, though there is still much to be done. I sense that the time is right for naked freedom – there are many of us willing to show ourselves and much of the public is OK with nudity. The police and legal authorities need to be worked on, but the S5 criminal offences of causing distress, insulting behaviour or disorderly conduct etc. are clearly ridiculous and unsustainable, we can get them repealed. So, I’m ready to join with others for naked action. lets get started!

  • I agree with Rouget and Ancient,Brit,Brian it is time for all in naturism to pull together to get section 5 repealed. I am willing to give support in any way I can…

  • I agree; mass action is required, and hopefully should involve both men and women of all ages. We have to state clearlt that we are part of Europe, where attitudes to the naturist lifestyle are much more sensible.

  • I totally agree with the two comments above, if all naturists, nudists and sun worshipors joined forces, someone somewhere, may, perhaps listen and take note and do something to help the cause. Please contact me with anything i could be of help to.

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