The following article is from NAG supporter Brian Johnson.
Are the police and the CPS are trying to make it illegal to be naked in a public place? Is British law being made by the police rather than Parliament?
An Incident in Victoria Park, London on Wednesday 20th June 2012
There seems to be a constant stream of news reports on the TV, radio and written media of abuse of the law by the police. If the media is to be believed corruption in the police is still widespread and not much has changed since the Hillsborough disaster where it appears there was systematic tampering of police witness statements to cover up police actions. There are far too many occasions when the police seem to believe that they are above the law.
Britain likes to pride itself on being the cradle of democracy and upholder of freedom of the individual. This freedom has been fought for by our forefathers, many of whom have given up their lives in the fight against fascist and totalitarian governments. Britain has led the world in the fight for the abolition of slavery and the fight for the ending of discrimination on the grounds of race, gender, creed or sexuality. British politicians are very quick to lecture other countries on their lack of adherence to International laws on human rights and on the suppression of individual freedoms.
In Britain it is the democratically elected Parliament which decides on the laws of the country and it is up to the police and the courts to see that those laws are enforced, but it appears that many police forces have an unreasonable aversion to nudity and they are trying to criminalise nudity against the clear intentions of Parliament.
Non-sexual nudity in a public place was discussed at length in a two hour debate in the House of Lords when the Exposure clause of the Sexual Offences Act (2003) was going through Parliament. When this bill was enacted all the previous legislation which had been used in the past against public nudity was repealed. The effect of Section 66 of the Sexual Offences Act made ‘aggressive’ nudity illegal, but simple nudity was not illegal in a public place.
In his summing up in this debate on behalf the Government, Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Minister of State (Criminal Policy), Home Office) ended:
“Finally, do we intend to catch the streaker? No, we do not. Do we intend to catch the naturist? No, we do not.”
This has been accepted by many police forces when they responded to events such as the nudity on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square and the World Naked Bike Ride events which have taken place in the busy centres of many of our big cities.
On Saturday 9th June 2012, I had ridden naked through the busy streets of London in company with about 1000 other naked riders as part of the World Naked Bike Ride. This is an event that the police are fully aware of and acknowledge as being legal. The ride passed through popular locations such as Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square and The Mall as well as riding past the entrance to Downing Street. The police did not see any need to police this event, not even to provide an escort to help with traffic control.
It was accepted as legal for a thousand riders to ride naked through the streets of London in full view of thousands of unsuspecting members of the public. The response of the public to the riders was overwhelmingly supportive.
When Judge Nick Sanders refused Merseyside police an Anti-Social Behaviour Order against serial streaker Mark Roberts every complainant was a police officer and he said “In the vast majority of cases there is a feeling of amusement or of tolerance”.
However in recent years many police officers seem to have decided that nudity is a crime and ignoring the law and arresting people for non-sexual nudity. Naturists have been arrested for being naked in their own garden, for being naked in remote wilderness areas and youngsters have been arrested for the streaking.
Having made an arrest the police have to try and justify their actions. The first thing that they often do is try and persuade witnesses that aggressive or sexual activity was taking place so that prosecutions can be made under Sexual Offences Act. If this doesn’t work they charge under Section 5 of the Public Order Act (1986). This Act was never intended to be used against public nudity and when the Sexual Offences Act was debated by Parliament in 2003 it was not even considered that the Public Order Act could have any significance. The relevant part of the Act reads:
“A person is guilty of an offence if he uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.”
It was clear in the statements made by Home Secretary Hon. Douglas Hurd when introducing the Bill that “the new offence (Section 5, Public Order Act) is aimed at protecting those in our communities who are most vulnerable to loutish and abusive behaviour…….Members will be only too familiar with the behaviour to which I refer. It casts a blight upon an area….and makes the lives of people living there fearful and miserable. People are frightened to open their front door. They are kept awake by rowdy behaviour at night. Ethnic minorities are victimised with racialist slogans and abuse. Gangs of hooligans make some pedestrian and shopping areas places where ordinary people fear to go”
In recent years the law is being abused by the too many police officers to further their personal prejudices. I’ll just give three very varied examples:
- Another naturist is arrested and charged for sunbathing naked in his own garden.
- A naturist walking naked on remote moorland in Yorkshire is arrested on suspicion of ‘Indecent Exposure’. There is no such offence under Statute Law. The only witness was an off-duty police officer.
- A streaker at a football match gets charged under the Sexual Offences Act, rather than the legislation enacted making it illegal to invade the pitch, and put on the Sex Offenders Register.
The incident I will relate here did not lead to arrest and prosecution, but probably only because I am aware of the details of the law and was able to stand up to a bullying police officer. The incident took place on 20th June 2012 only 11 days after I was riding naked through the busy centre of London along with many others on the World Naked Bike Ride.
I was modelling for a photo-shoot with professional photographer, Mark Adlington, who wanted to obtain photographs for submission to the National Portrait Gallery for the prestigious Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize and Exhibition which celebrates and promotes the very best in contemporary portrait photography. Mark had seen me at the World Naked Bike Ride and been impressed with my many tattoos and wanted to photograph me naked or scantily dressed to best show off the tattoos for this portrait competition.
We were taking photographs in a relatively secluded spot in Victoria Park in Central London. A lady walking a dog walked past while I was wearing a loin cloth. She didn’t say anything but a few minutes later two police officers turned up, by which time I was naked and they told us that what we were doing was illegal. I asked which law we were breaking, pointing out that there was no law making non-aggressive, non-sexual nudity illegal in a public place. The police officer told us that we were breaking Section 5 of the Public Order Act. I pointed out the requirements of that Act and one officer went off to speak to the witness and came back saying the witness said she was “alarmed and distressed” by seeing me. What a coincidence that the witness used the exact words in the Public Order Act! “Alarmed and distressed”, not “surprised”, “shocked”, “upset” or “disgusted”, not that she had phoned the police because she thought it was illegal to be naked (I was actually wearing loin cloth when she saw me!), but that she was “alarmed and distressed”.
One officer then went away phone the police station. When she came back her colleague again went to speak to the witness. When he returned it was made clear to us that what we were doing was illegal (it isn’t!) but that we weren’t being arrested because the witness did not want to appear in Court. We were also told that the incident would be recorded on the police computer.
Incidentally the officer wanted to arrest the photographer as well me and I have no doubt she would have arrested both of us if I had not got a better knowledge of the law than her and was able to fight my corner.
Another thing the police officer said was that “children or old people might have seen us”. The police are meant to base their actions on evidence and there is no evidence that children are damaged by non-sexual nudity. There is however plenty of evidence of damage to children in societies where prudery is rife, with children in countries such as the UK having serious body image problems, problems with eating disorders and much higher teenage pregnancy rates than in countries such as Denmark. Children are natural naturists until indoctrinated by society to have an irrational phobia about nudity.
Prior to this incident we had actually got some very good photos in another, much less secluded, part of Victoria Park.
I conclude with the reminder that the police are officers of the law and their duty is to enforce the law as laid down by Parliament. Being a police officer does not give any officer the right to enforce personal prejudice.
Finally a quote made by John Glen, Conservative MP for Salisbury (my MP) in Parliament in March 2011:
“I find myself in agreement with the renowned campaigner, Peter Tatchell, who said: ‘If offending others is accepted as a basis for prosecution, most of the population of the UK would end up in court.’”