An Important (to naturism) victory happened in a Kent magistrates court yesterday. A newspaper report can be found at: http://www.kentonline.co.uk/malling/news/naked-carpenter-cleared-120208/ and is reproduced below. Though we await fuller details, there are some interesting features of this case, apart from the overall common sense approach of the magistrates:
- The ‘Article 10’ Human Rights defence was accepted by the court (saying that being naked is a legitimate form of expression). This defence has been rejected in other high profile cases involving public nudity.
- Mr Jenner was only naked on his own property, and though he was visible from the street, this was important to the magistrates. Had he strayed on to the street it may have been a different matter.
- The magistrates did not consider the witnesses had been truly ‘harassed, alarmed or distressed’ (as is required by s.5 Public Order Act 1986 under which this was prosecuted). They were simply annoyed, or angry, or curious – which was not enough.
- The Not Guilty verdict raises a serious question of the use of the Banning Order which had been placed on Mr Janner. This is an ‘Antisocial Behaviour’ move which police and Local Authorities can use without requiring a trial. It seems that in this case the magistrates found that the order was unnecessary ‘overkill’ used simply to pacify some outraged prudes.
- This case was decided in a magistrates court, so it does not have the power of Legal Precedent. It should however make the Crown Prosecution Service take note and think twice before taking action in the future. It seems that on this occasion they ignored their own guidelines [ http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/l_to_o/nudity_in_public/ ].
- The comments from the public on the Kentonline website (see link above) are nearly all supportive to Mr Janner, and critical of the complainants, police and CPS. It seems that general public opinion is not at all anti-naturist, and that objectors, though noisy, are a minority only. We need to show the Authorities that the public don’t mind naturism at all, so please – everyone make your views known when the subject comes up. Silence just gives way to the noisy prudes.
Naked carpenter Robert Jenner, of Snodland, cleared of public order offences
This evening at Maidstone Magistrates’ Court after almost two hours of deliberation magistrates returned not guilty verdicts, concluding his freedom of expression outweighed any alarm caused.
The bench had heard from four witnesses whose reactions to Mr Jenner’s actions ranged from awkwardness to anger.
Frederick Black said he was so disgusted when he saw him bent over mixing cement he dialled 999 while Lisa Jarrett saw him on several occasions and said it made her feel “not very nice.”
Michael Smith was so angry when he spotted Mr Jenner leaning on a rake he marched up to his door and demanded he get out of the house.
Paul Edwards, prosecuting, said Mr Jenner was an exhibitionist and not a naturist and he must have known the consequences of his actions as he had erected a sign asking people not to be offended.
But Alex Davey, defending, said he had never intended to cause harassment, alarm or distress and was simply exercising his right to be naked.
Giving evidence this afternoon Mr Jenner was resolute in his belief he had done nothing wrong, telling magistrates he was fighting for tolerance.
He said naturism gave him “a sense of freedom and liberty,” adding: “There’s no constraints and everyone is the same.”
However he conceded he would not go nude in the street as he was not “strong enough.”
The former soldier, who lives in Snodland, became a naturist in 1999 while based in Cyprus because it was hot and he had chanced upon a secluded beach.
He toured Iraq in 2003 and 2004 and left the army a year later, buying the Eccles property which he now rents.
He was slapped with a restraining order banning him from going to leisure centres last year after walking around naked on several occasions but was never convicted of any offence.
Magistrates took that order into account and ruled his behaviour between August and October was disorderly but said being naked was a form of expression and his human rights outweighed the alarm caused.
Andrew Backway, chairman of the bench, said: “In regard to the charge from August 29 we find you not guilty as we cannot be sure if you were inside or outside your property.
“On September 1 we find you not guilty because Mrs Jarrett went down the road to get a better look. On September 7 no one saw you so we find you not guilty.
“In regard to the regard to the remaining eight charges we are satisfied you knew your behaviour was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress.
“However your article 10 rights are engaged because being naked is a form of expression. We find your freedom does not amount to disorderly behaviour because you were in your own garden which has restricted views.”
Speaking after the hearing Mr Jenner said he will continue to practise naturism when the weather improves, adding: “People should be more tolerant, it’s just a body at the end of the day.”