Naked Rambler: We should be ashamed

“We can either end up living a life that others expect of us or lives based on our own truth. The difference is the difference between living a conscious life or one that is unconscious. And that’s the difference between living and not living.” Stephen Gough, letter to Neil Forsyth, 2012

My first and so far only experience with a flasher was in the children’s section of a big bookshop in Edinburgh when I was 14: he was wearing a coat that covered his legs down to his knees and concealed from the adults in the shop that he had his dick out and was jerking off whenever he could catch the eye of a teenager too shy (I was) to go at once to the nearest counter and tell the adult there “That man is exposing himself” or whatever words I could find to explain. Instead, disgusted and humiliated, I tried to get away from him inside the shop and eventually left the shop and went home. I was lucky, on reflection, that he didn’t follow me. iHollaback is an international campaign, recently launched in Edinburgh, to fight back against this kind of assault.

Naturists don’t do this. Specifically, Stephen Gough is not doing this.

Stephen Gough has been sentenced to five months solitary confinement. Again.

In Scotland, a breach of the peace can take place anywhere – home, workplace, public. The police have powers to arrest. It’s defined as

Offence: When one or more persons conduct themselves in a riotous, or disorderly manner, anywhere, which alarms, annoys or disturbs the lieges (other people).

Stephen Gough’s behaviour – he refuses to wear clothes – falls under the Scottish legal definition of “disorderly”, apparently:

Disorderly: There is a more subtle element. The behaviour doesn’t have to be noisy but still of a nature that would cause concern to other people. Examples include: ‘Peeping Tom’ type behaviour, persistently following someone, delivering ‘threatening’ letters and ‘streaking’ or ‘mooning’.

The police have a wide latitude to arrest for breach of the peace. In past times – not so long ago – I’ve known two men be arrested for kissing, on the grounds that this is “disorderly”. Quite often, however, a court will conclude that there was no actual breach of the peace because:

To prove a Breach of the Peace the most important things to prove is that someone was Alarmed, Annoyed or Disturbed by the incident.

In short, the police can arrest because they think there may be a breach of the peace: but to send someone to prison, the courts should have to show that there actually was at least one person “alarmed, annoyed, or disturbed” by the person’s behaviour.

As Neil Forsyth noted in March this year:

The prosecution has very rarely managed to rustle up witnesses to claim Gough’s nakedness has had any of these effects on them. What is keeping him in prison is simply the theoretical idea that it could.
…..
Twice Scottish sheriffs found in Gough’s favour that no crime had been committed, both in him being naked in public and being naked in court. “Both times the sheriffs were elderly females,” notes Good, who represented Gough for more than three years (they parted company in 2010 so Gough could represent himself, making it harder for him to be excluded from the courtroom for being naked). “Stephen then chose to leave court naked and was arrested for being naked in public.”

Initially, Gough was a legal novelty in Scotland and support came from surprising quarters. In 2008, Edinburgh-based solicitor Joe MacPherson prosecuted Gough, a position with which he says he was uncomfortable. “I looked at the case and thought a man walking down a public street would not cause the requisite fear and alarm to an ordinary person. It would be odd, or amusing perhaps, but nothing more. The judge said his hands were tied. Seeing a man’s penis was felt to be enough to cause fear and alarm.”

Eventually Gough’s case was heard at Scotland’s appeal court, where it was found that breach of the peace should indeed be interpreted to criminalise his behaviour. Since then Scottish sheriffs have fallen in line; his sentences have steadily increased to the maximum and, should he keep refusing to dress, he will be caught in an endless cycle of two-year sentences. He insists if he were allowed to return home naked to Eastleigh, he’d cease being naked in public “when I don’t have to do it any more”.

Will he? I doubt it. But that’s not the point.

Stephen Gough has now spent six years mostly in solitary confinement in Scottish prisons, and all because he has consistently refused to get dressed to appear in court or when he leaves prison.

Gough’s imprisonment began in May 2006 when he stripped off on a flight from Southampton to Edinburgh. He was returning to Scotland to face charges connected to the second of his Land’s-End-to-John-O’Groats naked rambles that had seen him make jovial appearances in the national press, and less jovial appearances in the docks of various Scottish magistrates’ courts.

The mid-air strip (which in court was described as having little effect other than exciting an onboard hen party) earned Gough a four-month sentence for breach of the peace. Those four months have been extended over and over again as Gough has each time insisted on leaving prison without any clothing. The prison authorities notify the police, the police pick him up outside, he’s charged with a further breach of the peace, taken to court to receive another sentence and sent back to jail.

Stephen Gough spends his time in prison in solitary confinement because he won’t wear clothes in prison. “The practice of isolating a person in solitary confinement for extended periods of time causes severe sensory deprivation and has been denounced as torture by the United Nations.”

In England, Gough’s habit of going naked was largely treated as a joke. In Scotland, we’ve locked him up. Perhaps we’re just less tolerant of nakedness because of colder weather, but it appears that with regard to Gough, the police and the courts have decided they no longer have to find anyone who is offended by his nakedness, they just have to assume his nakedness is offensive.

Surely – surely – we can do better as a country for someone whose only crime is not wearing clothes? Stephen Gough’s “crime” this time was to insist that he would continue walking down Cairncubie Road, in Dunfermline, even though he would pass a children’s playground.

To which Sheriff James Williamson’s reaction was

“You were indulged by the authorities and the police. I understand you to have left prison some time before your arrest.

“Police officers told you that if you carried on your journey you would pass a playground occupied by children.

“You were given three options: one to change direction, two to cover your private parts, or three to enter the police van, who would then take you round the play park, release you and allow you on your way.

“Despite that, you refused. That shows a degree of arrogance and disregard for other members of the public, in particular children, who have a right not to be confronted by naked men.”

I’m pretty sure the reaction of most children to a naked man walking down the road wearing boots, a hat, and a backpack, would be

Child laughing

(I admit their parents might not have quite the same reaction. But that’s part of the problem.)

Free the Naked Rambler, Stephen Gough

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7 Comments

Filed under Justice, Scottish Culture

7 responses to “Naked Rambler: We should be ashamed

  1. Absolutely. Flashing is not the same as walking round naked. The thing that is threatening about flashing is not the exposure of the penis, but the fiddling with it in such a way as to give the impression that the flasher wants to use it.

    • Further, the whole thing has turned into locking a man up for extended periods of time simply because (a) we can (b) it’s hypothesised that if we don’t someone somewhere will be Alarmed, Annoyed or Disturbed by him – despite the considerable evidence that nobody is.

      Six years. He’d have been sentenced to less time if he’d committed rape.

  2. This whole situation is confusing me. Do I or do I not have the right not to be confronted by naked men?

    • The question is, will you feel Alarmed, Annoyed or Disturbed if you meet the Naked Rambler?

      …I suspect I would be a blogger and pull out my camera.

      • That’s not my question. That’s /your/ question. To answer it from my perspective: yes, initially; yes, probably; depends if his is bigger than mine.

        My question, rephrased, is this: we have a law against indecent exposure, not a law against “handling one’s own penis in a threatening manner” or “indecent exposure when performed by someone other than a personable, somewhat eccentric, tabloid hero”. Why does this not count as indecent exposure? Why am I at risk of having some bloke’s wanger waved in my face when all I’m trying to do is buy a sausage roll and not be put off my food.

        Furthermore, AIUI quite a substantial portion of the time he’s spent inside has been for contempt of court. I don’t know, as above, whether or not it’s illegal to go naked in the street, but when summoned in front of the beak you damn well put a suit on.

  3. pajh: That’s not my question. That’s /your/ question.

    Actually, it’s the legal answer to your question. If you were to argue that you feel alarmed, annoyed, and disturbed at the sight of a penis, larger than your own, when you just want to buy a sausage roll: well, if he’s walking briskly down the road, the penis will be out of sight in a minute or so, and you need not, after all, stare right at the sight that disturbs you so much.

    My question, rephrased, is this: we have a law against indecent exposure, not a law against “handling one’s own penis in a threatening manner” or “indecent exposure when performed by someone other than a personable, somewhat eccentric, tabloid hero”. Why does this not count as indecent exposure? Why am I at risk of having some bloke’s wanger waved in my face when all I’m trying to do is buy a sausage roll and not be put off my food.

    Because the law against “indecent exposure” actually specifies that there must be a “lewd and indecent intention”:

    Any person who publicly exposes the private parts of their body in a shameless and indecent manner in the presence of the lieges commits a crime at common law.

    There must be a lewd and indecent intention, mere carelessness is not criminal.

    This is what Yvonne is talking about and this is why Gough has not been charged with indecent exposure: because plainly he has not the intention of exposing his penis in a “shameless and indecent manner”. He’s just walking about naked.

    The law against breach of the peace possibly applies, though the courts have difficulty finding any witness who says they were “alarmed, annoyed, or disturbed” by the sight of Gough naked. But indecent exposure isn’t intended to allow you to avoid catching sight of another bloke’s willy: it’s intended as a law against men who like to wave their wangs about with indecent intent.

    Furthermore, AIUI quite a substantial portion of the time he’s spent inside has been for contempt of court. I don’t know, as above, whether or not it’s illegal to go naked in the street, but when summoned in front of the beak you damn well put a suit on.

    It is not illegal to appear naked in court. And in all honesty, I feel that the Scottish courts that have kept jailing him for six years for going naked deserve nothing but his contempt.

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