Following the General Election in May 2015, the Naturist Action Group wrote to Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party, asking for clarification on her party’s policy on naturism and the discrimination felt by many naturists.
Although the dust from the election had not quite settled, at the same time we also wrote to David Cameron, the Prime Minister, Harriet Harman, then interim leader of the Labour Party and leader of the official opposition, Tim Farron, the newly elected leader of the Liberal Democrats, and Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party and First Minister of Scotland, and Angus Robertson MP, deputy leader of the SNP and party leader in the House of Commons. None of the letters were identical, but were all broadly similar to the one sent to Natalie Bennett.
I would just like to take a moment to give a brief explanation of how HM Government functions, if you already know this perhaps you would prefer to skip the remainder of this paragraph and the next. Located in central London, Government for the UK is headed by the Prime Minister on one side, with the Loyal Opposition on the other. MPs from other parties usually sit on the Opposition benches in the House of Commons. Since 1999 however, some matters specific to that nation have been devolved to parliaments in Scotland (Edinburgh) and Wales (Cardiff) with a Government led by a First Minister, who can be from a different party to the Prime Minister in London. Northern Ireland is different again. A more detailed explanation can be found from Wikipedia.
We wrote to the Prime Minister (Conservative), the leader of the Loyal Opposition (Labour) and to the leader of the third largest party in the House of Commons, the Scottish Nationalist Party. We wrote to the Liberal Democrats because they are still considered a major party in UK politics, even though they only have eight MPs and the Greens because one of our supporters wanted to attempt to change their policies in favour of naturism. All are based in London. As the leader of the SNP – Nicola Sturgeon – is a Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) and not an MP in London, we wrote to her in Edinburgh.
Of all the letters sent, only those to the Prime Minister and the First Minister were acknowledged and full replies subsequently received.
The reply from Downing Street came via the office of the Rt. Hon Mike Penning MP, the Minister for Policing, Crime, Criminal Justice and Victims. It is a brief letter and said:
“Nudity in public is not an offence where there is no [intention] to cause harassment, alarm and distress. There are powers for the police to deal with any such acts and how they enforce the law in any particular case is an operational matter for the police.”
This is making reference to section 66, Sexual Offences Act 2003, which states:
(1) A person commits an offence if—
(a) he intentionally exposes his genitals, and
(b) he intends that someone will see them and be caused alarm or distress.
(2) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable—
(a) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or both;
(b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years.
Penning would not comment on any individual case, namely Steve Gough, and we would not expect him too. It is a pity, however, that he would not comment on the wider point we raised about the unequal treatment naturists get from the justice system when the Conservative Party had a manifesto commitment for: “Promoting equal treatment and equal opportunity for all in society proud of its tolerance and diversity.”
In our letter to the First Minister of Scotland, we said that while the SNP had a comprehensive policy for gender equality and discrimination, nowhere among their policies could we find a specific mention of a right to a private life and a right to choose how they might express themselves, which could include public nudity.
The reply came from Ronnie Fraser of the Criminal Justice Division of the Justice Directorate in Edinburgh, and is somewhat more substantial than the reply received from Penning and refers to Scots Law. In it, he states:
“[T]here is no specific statutory offence concerning public nudity in Scotland, but under Scots Law, exposure of the naked body in certain circumstances may be considered by the courts to be a breach of the peace. This is because the conduct, although not indecent or aggressive … may yet be likely to cause fear and alarm or distress to a reasonable person.”
The text for the Sexual Offences Act in Scotland is identical to England and Wales. It is therefore interesting that Fraser uses the word ‘likely’ a lower test than in the Act itself, which states that alarm or distress should: “be caused….”
Naturally, it is up to the court to determine if the provisions of the Act had been broken and will need to consider the individual circumstances of the case but Fraser referred to the Appeal Court case of Webster v Dominick 2003. He summed it up by stating that public nudity “is criminal only where it affects public sensibility”.
A discussion about Webster v Dominick is outside the scope of this article, but I believe it does point the way for future campaigning and not only for Scotland.
We know that the Crown Prosecution Service have published guidelines for police services and front line officers in England and Wales to consult when dealing with incidents involving public nudity. What NAG has learned so far is that it is not compulsory for them to use the guidelines but if training based upon it and developed by the College of Policing is given to station custody officers then maybe fewer files involving naturists will be passed to the CPS for prosecution. That, after all, is the general aim of the guidelines.
With its separate judicial system, the CPS Guidelines do not apply to Scotland, so getting something similar there is one avenue we could explore. In the meantime, I can reveal that BN have produced an information sheet explaining public nudity in relation to Scottish law, similar to the one they produced for England and Wales, and it will be launched at their AGM, this October. It will fold down to credit card size and would be useful for anyone who’s right to be nude in a public place is challenged.
NAG is beginning to work on getting training on the CPS Guidelines included for custody officers’ but it is clear that the Conservative-led Government is continuing with the austerity started by the previous coalition Government, so Chief
Campaign update – 21st November 2014
This is a brief update on the campaign that NAG and BN have been running jointly for about 4 years, which started with concern over the way the police and Courts viewed nudity as if it were unquestionably illegal, which it rarely is. This lead to our receiving reports, attending Court, assisting the accused and tracking the outcomes. As we were preparing our submission to The Authorities, the project was changed by the Crown Prosecution Service’s publication of its ‘Guidance on handling cases of Naturism’. The CPS guidance was prompted, at least in part, by the letters from NAG, BN and individuals. Though not perfect, this sought to address many of our concerns. It was therefore decided to alter the focus of our efforts on to trying to ensure that the front line police officers understood the CPS’s guidance. A survey of every Police Authority, and every Police & Crime Commissioner in England & Wales followed. Special thanks to Brian Johnson for his help with this. The survey was poorly responded to, despite follow-ups, but it disclosed that most Authorities had no plans for training in this area, and the few that did were unconvincing and inconsistent. So we sought to find out who could influence this, in order that we could have a dialogue with them. It emerged that police national training standards and syllabus is set by The College of Policing.
This whole process was long drawn out and frustrating and in part this was due to the police itself undergoing a significant reorganisation during this time. The former National Police Improvement Agency was being run down and replaced by The College of Policing (CoP), but the manning up of the CoP took time, and for a considerable time we simply could not find the right people to talk to. However a couple of months ago, a senior official at the CoP agreed to meet us to hear what we had to say. Malcolm Boura met him (as I was unavailable to join them), and had a very useful and cooperative conversation. However, circumstances limited actual progress at that time, as he was about to move on within the organisation, and responsibility for Public Order Policing was about to change again. However, he undertook to pass the matter on properly to his successor, which he did, resulting in a meeting between Malcolm, me and the new portfolio holder on November 14th.
We were very encouraged by the reception our concerns received and by the high degree of understanding we were met with. It is not appropriate to go in to details at this stage, as this could be counter-productive, but we came away with a mutually agreed strategy to carry our dialogue forward in a
For over 2 years NAG has been leading a joint project with BN to address the issue of how the police and Courts deal with naturism. As part of this, we have produced the following report of our survey on the adoption of the new CPS guidelines. This report has now been sent to the Association of Chief Police Officers, The Association of Police & Crime Commissioners, The College of Policing, and the Director of Public Prosecutions (head of the CPS). We have asked for a meeting to discuss our findings. This project will continue by cooperative consultation, and when there are any significant developments they will be reported here.
Apologies for any loss of formatting of the report in posting it here
Joint report on the study of the uptake of Crown Prosecution Service Guidance ‘Nudity in Public –
Guidance on handling cases of Naturism ’[September 2013], by Police Authorities in England & Wales.
- Police & Crime Commissioners do not consider consider ensuring consistent and accurate application of the law in this respect, to be their ‘business’.
- Police & Crime Commissioners do not consider saving money by avoiding mistakes to be their ‘business’.
- Inconsistent responses and intentions from Police Forces.
- Low priority given to inclusion of CPS Guidelines in Police training
- Slow and patchy uptake of the ‘new approach’ generally.
- Little acknowledgement for the need for change within Police Forces, despite the CPS Guidelines.
Background & Reason for the study
There has been increasing concern within the naturist community in recent years, at the attention naturism has occasionally attracted by the police. Though there have been many instances of police reacting proportionately and appropriately to reports of nudity in public places, there have also been incidents, sometimes resulting in prosecutions. As a result we began to gather data on these incidents with a view to approaching the Authorities to seek a fairer and more consistent application of the Law to naturism than we felt had been happening. Personal views of police and judges seemed to be driving events too much, often with little reference to any actual harm done (of which there was none in any incident studied). There seemed to be an informal institutional prudery in police and courts alike, which led to a disproportionate reaction to any incident involving nudity in public, or even some private, places. This caused great distress to those who were subject to heavy handed policing, wasted public resources, and did not serve the public interest. Of those cases taken to Court, the majority resulted in acquittals.
In September 2013, as our study period was approaching its conclusion and a submission to the Authorities, the Crown Prosecution Service published ‘Nudity in Public – Guidance on handling cases of Naturism.’ (Shown in Appendix 1) Effectively this acknowledged that the CPS shared some of our concerns, particularly in the use of Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 by police, to try to criminalise non-aggressive, non-sexual nudity. The CPS guidance addressed some (though not all) of our concerns, but it contained no mechanism within it to ensure that its guidance filtered down to police officers who have to make initial operational decisions. We therefore decided to contact every Police Authority in England & Wales to draw their attention to the CPS Guidance, express our views and ask them what plans they had to train their police officers in it. This report summarised the results of that exercise.
On 20th November 2013, letters (shown at appendix 2) were sent to all 42 Police forces, plus the Association of Chief Police Officers (‘ACPO’) and the College of Policing. The same letter was also sent to all 42 Police & Crime Commissioners, plus the Association of Police & Crime Commissioners (‘APCCs’). Responses were received by letter, email and telephone over the succeeding 12 weeks. The responses are summarised and tabulated below. A number of acknowledgements were received but never followed up with a response, and a number of Police Forces and PCCs did not respond at all (as marked).
The results are summarised in the table below. Copies of all responses and other correspondence are available to authorised users on https://www.bn.org.uk/campaigning/wiki.php/_/policing/general-policy-and-training-r35 .
Of the 42 PCCs contacted 4 acknowledged receipt, but did not reply. In addition 25 did not respond at all, making a total of 29 who did not reply.
Of the 13 PCCs who replied, all considered the CPS’s Guidance on Nudity in Public, and any police responses, to be an operational police matter, and made no meaningful comment beyond that. The Association of PCC’s made the same remark, commenting also that national guidance on police training is the responsibility of the College of Policing, suggesting we contact them (which we already had). Only the PCC for West Yorkshire commented on the uptake of the CPS Guidelines within that police service, saying that it was to be incorporated within their training programme and published internally. West Yorkshire Police themselves did not respond.
Of the 42 Police Forces contacted, 6 acknowledged receipt, but did not reply. In addition 16 did not respond at all, making a total of 22 who did not reply (though this number includes West Yorkshire for whom their PCC made a reply).
Of the 20 Police Forces which replied 19 had no stated policy on dealing with incidents of public nudity, other than trusting the local officer to exercise jusgment of the actual situation. One (Cheshire) has a policy which is consistent with the new CPS Guidelines.
The replies from some police forces were phrased in very general terms, and therefore it was not always clear what was meant. In categorising the replies below, an element of judgment had to be used, as there was overlap of intent as well as uncertainty in some cases.
Of the 20 forces which responded (21 including W. Yorkshire whose PCC responded for them), 5 forces had no plans to include any specific training for front line officers to do with the CPS Guidelines. 8 were planning to publish the guidelines on websites or internal bulletin boards, but with no further training. 4 forces were intending to approach the issue by briefing specialist officers such as Diversity Officers or Custody Sergeants as internal ‘consultants’ to provide advice to operational officers involved in issues to do with public nudity. 4 Forces had undertaken, or were considering including specific training to all officers. 5 of the responses included comments suggesting a presumption that public nudity was likely to be a public order issue. 3 forces commented that public nudity incidents were not considered a current or past issue in their area, as there were few, if any, such incidents.
The College of Policing and ACPO did not respond at all.
Police & Crime Commissioners Survey, summary of responses
Policy on Nudity
Training re. CPS guidance
|Avon & SomersetIndependent||No response||No response|
|BedfordshireLabour||6/12/13||Police Operational Matter||Police Operational Matter|
|CambridgeshireConservative||5/12/13||Police operational matter||Police operational matter|
|CheshireConservative||25/11/13||Police operational matter||Police operational matter|
|City of LondonConservative||No response||No response|
|ClevelandLabour||No response||No response|
|DerbyshireLabour||No response||No response|
|Devon and CornwallConservative||5/12/13||Police Operational Matter||Police Operational Matter|
|DorsetIndependent||4/12/13||Police Operational Matter||Police Operational Matter|
|DurhamLabour||5/12/13||Police Operational Matter||Police Operational Matter|
|Dyfed PowysConservative||No response||No response|
|EssexConservative||27/11/13||No response||No response|
|GloucestershireIndependent||No response||No response|
|Greater ManchesterLabour||No response||No response|
|GwentIndependent||No response||No response|
|Hampshire &IOWIndependent||No response||No response|
|HertfordshireConservative||No response||No response|
|HumbersideConservative||No response||No response|
|KentIndependent||16/12/13||No comment||No comment|
|LancashireLabour||2/12/13||No response||No response|
|LeicestershireConservative||No response||No response|
|LincolnshireIndependent||19/12/13||Police Operational Matter||Police Operational Matter|
|MerseysideLabour||No response||No response|
|MetropolitanConservative||10/12/13||Police Operational Matter||Police Operational Matter|
|NorfolkIndependent||No response||No response|
|NorthamptonConservative||No response||No response|
|NorthumbriaLabour||12/12/13||Police Operational Matter||Police Operational Matter|
|North YorkshireConservative||No response||No response|
|North WalesIndependent||No response||No response|
|NottinghamshireLabour||No response||No response|
|South WalesLabour||No response||No response|
|South YorkshireLabour||No response||No response|
|StaffordshireConservative||25/11/13||No response||No response|
|SuffolkConservative||No response||No response|
|SurreyIndependent||No response||No response|
|SussexConservative||12/12/13||Police operational matter||Police operational matter|
|Thames ValleyConservative||No response||No response|
|WarwickshireIndependent||9/12/13||No response||No response|
|West MerciaIndependent||No response||No response|
|West MidlandsLabour||27/11/13||31/1/13||Police operational matter||Police operational matter.|
|West YorkshireLabour||27/11/13||17/1/14||Police operational matter||W.Yorks police are developing a training programme which will incorporate CPS guidelines. Also published internally.|
|WiltshireConservative||No response||No response|
|Association of P.C.C.s||26/11/13||Police operational matter||College of Policing sets national training standards. Decision should lie with them.|
Police Authority Chief
The case of the man accused of indecency for doing his garden in the nude has been thrown out by Cheltenham magistrates. This is a triumph for common sense and a confirmation that there is nothing illegal about simple nudity in the garden. It also shows that you should not jump to conclusions and pre-judge cases based on what the CPS says alone, which is what BN did in shunning this innocent man and refusing to take any interest in his case.
The press report is on:
NAG volunteers attended the trial and provided the accused with support.