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.’  However, following Bibby v Chief Constable of Essex, it is not only the perpetrator that can be arrested but a potential victim as well.  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  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 reformsection5.org 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.