Naturists Campaigning for Naturism

Policing by consent – talk to your PCC!

Policing By Consent.

By Duncan Heenan

Late last year, Police Authorities were replaced by elected Police & Crime Commissioners (‘PCCs’), who now provide the political oversight of local constabularies throughout the country. During the election process I wrote to each of the candidates in this area (Hampshire and the Isle of Wight) asking what their policy in ‘policing’ of nudity issues might be. Candidate Simon Hayes responded, admitting it was something he had little experience of, but was willing to discuss if elected. He was elected, and in May he made good his promise by meeting me, together with Hampshire naturists Tim Forcer and Glen & Cyndi Freyer. He also included a senior police officer in the meeting, to be thorough.Meeting with Hants PCC Simon Hayes

To help him understand why we were meeting, we sent a short briefing note in advance (copy in “Comments” on this post, below ). We explained that, though non-sexual, non-aggressive nudity in public places is legal, it is often treated by the police as if it is not. We felt that this arose from a sort of ‘institutional prudery’, which led to undue priority being given to any incident or complaint involving nudity. As well as causing considerable upset to innocent naturists on the receiving end of the police’s attention, in our opinion this represented a waste of public money for no benefit to society.

We were not making demands, simply making him aware of our views, and asking him to consider them. Fortunately (for us!) we did not have many such incidents in our area to present as evidence, as most of the incidents we know of have happened in other areas. All PCCs only have authority within their own area, but Mr Hayes was keen to know how other constabularies approached the issues we raised, so he could see how they might differ from his own area’s approach. This led to a discussion of the inconsistencies we had observed between constabularies, and the fact that there seemed to be no national mechanism to address this currently. It was a thoroughly professional discussion, but relaxed and good natured.

We came away feeling we had received a fair hearing, which was all we had asked for. The job of the PCC isn’t to manage operational policing, but to keep those who both protect and regulate our freedom doing so ultimately ‘by consent’, through the democratic process. If you like, they are our word in the police’s ear. It is early days in the existence of PCCs, so we don’t know how it will work out, but now at least concerned naturists have someone to talk to. If your PCC won’t talk to you, don’t re-elect them. We received a good reception, and so should you. To meet your PCC, all you have to do is to write to them asking for a meeting and letting them know in a few words why. They are busy people, so you may have to be patient; and don’t expect to come away with instant agreement. Changing attitudes takes time, but if you don’t put in any effort, attitudes won’t change. But seemingly fixed attitudes can change. For example, as I said in the meeting, my police officer father used to arrest people for homosexuality because it was illegal then; now there is a Gay Police Association! So why not give it a go, and let the naturist community know the outcome. It’s good to talk.

 

6 Responses to Policing by consent – talk to your PCC!

  • You said “To help him understand why we were meeting, we sent a short briefing note in advance”. Is a copy available to all? If it’s not too local specific then it could be a helpful document for others to base their disscussions on.

  • Here’s the little briefing we sent him:
    To: Simon Hayes

    Police & Crime Commissioner, Hampshire & the Isle of Wight

    Thank you for agreeing to see us at 4pm on Wednesday May 22nd.

    We thought it may help to give you a very brief précis of what we would like to discuss, so you can think about it beforehand.

    Though we reside in your police area, and understand your remit, there seems to be a national trend within police forces generally, towards prudery regarding nudity. From studying cases over the last three years, it seems that many officers consider that being naked in a public place is in itself an offence. The mere mention of nudity in any report to the police seems to guarantee an emergency response over issues which would otherwise get little or no response. There is also evidence of police officers soliciting complaints from witnesses – in effect ‘creating mountains out of molehills.’

    When cases involving public nudity are brought to court, it is almost always under section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986, because the police seem to believe that being naked constitutes ‘… threatening abusive or insulting behaviour or disorderly behaviour’ which will cause others ‘harassment alarm and distress’. Often, charges are dropped before ever getting to court, but after incurring significant public cost, as well as cost and stress to the accused person. If they do get to court, such cases are usually thrown out (‘no case to answer’) or result in a ‘not guilty’ verdict, either by magistrates or on appeal. In addition, there are many instances of police arresting people for being naked, with lengthy interviews, threats of charges and other very stressful processes, with no further action. These experiences can be traumatising for the person concerned, serve no useful purpose to the public, and creates an unnecessary workload for police and the courts; all reflected in wasteful use of public money.

    We also believe that some incidents involving nudity are ‘resolved’, from the police’s point of view, by the issue of formal Police Cautions. We have a number of misgivings about this way of handling such incidents, as we believe that pressure can be brought on people arrested when they are vulnerable, to avoid the publicity of a trial and obtain a quick release, when the real motive for this technique may well be the knowledge by the police that they have a weak case, or the reluctance to actually prepare one properly.

    The use of ASBOs in cases involving nudity is less common, but not unknown, and with the recent publication of the Antisocial Behaviour Bill 2013, this is likely to become a much more used weapon is the police’s armoury. We would like to touch some of the implications of this Bill for policing, as it has wide implications. Though this Bill is being introduced primarily to control yobbish behaviour and local terrorization, in its current format it could have wide unintended consequences. This arises mostly from the definition of Antisocial Behaviour in s1(2), which is:… is that the court is satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that the respondent has engaged or threatens to engage in conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person (“anti-social behaviour”). All conduct is ‘capable’ of ‘causing nuisance or annoyance’ to someone, as ‘any person’ does not even require that person to normal, reasonable or robust. This would give police and magistrates carte blanche to ban anything which annoys them, as in the absence of a proper definition of “Antisocial Behaviour” it is up to them to decide what it is. Our experience suggests that some police and magistrates think nudity is antisocial. This is based on their own subjective opinions, and not The Law, and to make the regulation of society’s freedoms subject to the opinions of the few is deeply worrying to us. It would also appear to be a breach of Article 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which says there must be no punishment without Law. If the law is not known, and yet there is punishment, this Bill (if enacted without change) would be a direct breach of that Convention, to which the UK is a signatory.

    We feel that the police’s approach we have observed is not in the public interest, as it is driven by individual officers’ view of what is ‘right’, rather than the law. As a result there is inconsistency between forces and even within forces. A recent survey carried out for Naturist Action Group of all Police forces within England and Wales failed to find any at all who had a policy on nudity. This is good in a way, in that it acknowledges that the law has almost nothing to say about nudity, but it reinforces our conclusion that action is based on personal views of police officers rather than anything which reflects genuine public opinion or the democratic process. In the area of nudity, we believe that to a large degree the police are ‘protecting’ the public from something from which they do not want, let alone need protecting. It is true that some people do not want to see other people naked, but we all dislike seeing some things, but are expected to be reasonably tolerant and robust in order to accommodate others’ freedoms. There is no evidence that the mere sight of a naked person causes any real harm to the viewer, whatever their age, sex or any other characteristic.

    We understand that you may not wish to discuss individual cases, but we would like an exchange of views on these and related issues, as they may affect policing in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, and we look forward to meeting you, and thank you again for your time.

    Best wishes,
    Duncan Heenan (and others)

  • This is excellent, and we would send something similar to our PCC except that he will not meet us. We don’t have the option of not re-electing him because we live in an area where you could put a blow up doll in the seat, and it would get elected if it stood for Labour. He got in with an overwhelming majority just because he is labour, and in our area there will never be any change.

  • Hello Duncan,
    I read this item and a few minutes later your piece on the San Francisco visit. Congratulations on your proactive approach and I note you made no mention of it but during your meeting with the PCC and his delegation, it would have been nice if you had arranged the meeting on one of the recognised/tolerated naturist beaches on the IOW, on a decently warm day and encouraged him to get his kit off. There have been many precedents. Our local radio station went through a phase of encouraging it and one naturist presenter was joined on air by another normally non-naturist presenter and witnessed by other staff members who confirmed that neither were wearing anything but their skin during the broadcast. (NOT a pretty sight, I might add!). Anyway, keep up the good work. I just wish I had the stamina to join you. The spirit is willing but these days the flesh is weak, sad to say.

  • It’s an impressive briefing paper; congratulations and thanks for taking up the debate with the PCC. The only thing I find surprising is you do not mention any discussion of Steve Gough, even though he has been confronted in Hampshire by the very same ASBO injustice that you tackle so effectively in the briefing paper. Did you raise the subject?

  • Steve’s case was discussed, but not in great detail, as it is ‘sub judice’ because his hearing comes to court in 2 weeks for breach of his ASBO. I’d put Steve’s case in to a different category anyway, as he is an out-and-out campaigner, and we were really asking the police to look at their attitude to incidental nudity. That’s not to say I don’t respect what Steve is doing, but we weren’t there to plead his case.
    I got the impression that the police were simply bored with Steve, and sandwiched between him and a number of complaints about him, and looking for a way out rather than acting with any kind of malice.

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