Steve Gough – ASBO breach hearing 19.6.13
This is a short inexpert précis of Steve Gough’s trial for breach of ASBO held 19-6-13 at Portsmouth Crown Court before Judge S. Monroe QC.
It was full of déjà vu, as the prosecutor was the same CPS Council (Stephen Jones) as prosecuted Richard Collins 2 years ago, and the defence Barrister was the same as defended RC (Annabel Timan), briefed as before by Bindmans. I was able to spend a little time with Annabel, who was fairly open and helpful.
It started with public being excluded as there was an initial hearing ‘in chambers’ as SG refused to get dressed for Court and the judge refused to let him appear naked. At that, the defence tried to get the charge set aside on Human Rights/ Freedom of Expression grounds (Article 10 ECHR) as a disproportionate punishment for an offence in which no one was hurt, and SG had already been deprived of liberty for 4 months, and the original POA convictions were not imprisonable anyway . The Judge refused on the grounds that she had no jurisdiction to rule on Human Rights issues in this case, though she said she would not necessarily dismiss such arguments as groundless if she had. She said the best way of shortening SG’s detention without trial was to proceed to trial today, which is what then happened in open court, but without SG present. A further request for an adjournment to hear the case at the same time as the appeal against the original ASBO itself was rejected on the same grounds of lack of jurisdiction, plus the statement that there could be no guarantee that the Appeal would proceed.
A jury of 8 women & 4 men was sworn in and the trial proceeded.
The prosecution outlined the uncontested facts. SG had a long history of Public Order Act convictions for appearing in public naked, and subsequent Contempt of Court in Scotland, and since returning to Hampshire had recently received 9 convictions for POA s5 for public nudity, by walking along public highways wearing only boots and a hat. He had appeared at Southampton Magistrates on 28.2.13 and as well as the convictions, he was given an Interim ASBO, banning him from appearing in any public area without sufficient clothing to cover his genitals and buttocks until 10/5/13. After he signed and received a copy of the ASBO, SG, still naked, had been offered clothing by the police, but had refused it. He then walked out of the Court, and was re-arrested by the police on the Court steps for breach of the ASBO. There was no violence. 2 Police witnesses appeared and confirmed the events. In his police station interview he said he did not understand why he had been given an ASBO, and he had refused clothing as a matter of principle, as he saw no need to wear any. The police had followed correct procedures, and it was obvious that they had expected SG’s course of action and were prepared for it. SG has been in custody ever since, awaiting trial, and had not applied for bail. The defence asked no questions and said nothing and called no witnesses. The Jury were given copies of the ASBO, and the CPS guidance notes re ASBOs.
The Judge directed the Jury not to question the legality of the ASBO, as she said it was lawful, even if there was an appeal pending. SG’s remedy was the appeal, not a breach of the Interim ASBO. She also said he could not claim ‘reasonable excuse’ in this case. The jury had only to decide on the evidence whether he had breached the Interim ASBO. Other convictions were irrelevant. After about 10 minutes deliberation the jury returned a unanimous Guilty verdict, and were dismissed.
The prosecution reviewed SG’s record, concluding he was a ‘serial offender’, has showed no signs of reform or regret, and the prosecution therefore asked for a prison sentence. The Defence argued again that the punishment was disproportionate as no harm had been done, the original offences were not imprisonable, and SG was apparently facing indefinite detention.
The judge said SG is 54 years old and had many convictions for public nudity, he had made a flagrant breach of an ASBO, which was a more serious offence than the POA offences. She sentenced him to 48 weeks custody, which in practice means that he will be released on 14/8/13, a day after the scheduled date for the Appeal against the ASBO i.e., he will stay in prison until the appeal is heard (assuming the date isn’t changed).
Duncan Heenan’s personal comments.
Stephen Jones (Prosecutor) used the same technique as in the Collins Trial, of an outraged demeanour and frequent references to ‘children may have seen’, etc. This seems to have been intended to subtly demonise SG in the eyes of the jury as some sort of potential sex offender, even though he has never even been accused of that. It is the same old ‘children must be protected from nudity’ argument which never seems to get challenged. We need a proper, objective study showing that exposure to non-sexual, non-violent nudity does not harm children.
Annabel thinks Stephen Jones prosecuting was not a coincidence. The CPS in this area seems to be starting to develop him as a specialist in nudity cases (100% success so far).
SG’s appeal against the ASBO (due 13/8/13, probably in Southampton) will be mostly on Human Rights/ Freedom of Expression grounds, and therefore much more important to the Naturist Cause than today’s hearing, which was a straightforward legal matter, with no real grounds for defence. I don’t think I shall be able to attend due to family commitments elsewhere, but it is important that someone in the Naturist world can attend and report it for the records (BN-NAG take notice!). The Judge seemed to imply there may be some merit in those arguments, but did not elaborate.
So far, cost and proportionality does not seem to have figured in the Courts’ treatment of SG. They can see from his record what he is about, and yet they take the same mechanistic, unimaginative approach.
SG is back into the same cycle he went through in Scotland for 6+ years. It seems the regime, though theoretically more liberal in England, in fact is not. It seems that, in England, as in Scotland, the worst sin is to defy the Court. I have not corresponded with SG for some time, so I don’t know his current thinking, but his behaviour does not seem to have changed. The story is far from over.