On this day, 50 years ago, The Sexual Offences Act was passed by the Houses of Parliament; the Act pertained to homosexual men and decriminalised sexual acts between them, as long as they were in private and both were above the age of 21.
This was supposed to be a step towards greater equality, however the evidence (both anecdotal, and those published within local newspapers) points to juxtaposition. For although the Act was brought forward by activists, campaigners and politicians, with a view to make homosexuality decriminalised, it opened a loophole that many homosexuals fell into.
The details of the Act, in full, can be accessed here; http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1967/60/pdfs/ukpga_19670060_en.pdf
However, the most pertinent aspects are quoted here:
1.-(l), Notwithstanding any statutory or common law provision, but subject to the provisions of the next following section,a homosexual act in private shall not be an offence provided that the parties consent thereto and have attained twenty-one years.
(2) An act which would otherwise be treated for the purposes
of this Act as being done in private shall not be so treated if done–
(a) when more than two persons take part or are present; or
(b) in a lavatory to which the public have or are permitted
to have access, whether on payment or otherwise.
(3) A man who is suffering from severe subnormality within
the meaning of the Mental Health Act 1959 cannot in law give 1959 c. 72.
any consent which, by virtue of subsection (1) of this section,
would prevent a homosexual act from being an offence, but a
person shall not be convicted, on account of the incapacity of
such a man to consent, of an offence consisting of such an act
if he proves that he did not know and had no reason to suspect
that man to be suffering from severe subnormality.
(4) Section 128 of the Mental Health Act 1959 (prohibition
on men on the staff of a hospital, or otherwise having responsibility
for mental patients, having sexual intercourse with women patients) shall have effect as if any reference therein to having unlawful sexual intercourse with a woman included a reference to committing buggery or an act of gross indecency with another
(5) Subsection (1) of this section shall not prevent an act
from being an offence (other than a civil offence) under any provision
of the Army Act 1955, the Air Force Act 1955 or the Naval
Discipline Act 1957.
(6) It is hereby declared that where in any proceedings it is
charged that a homosexual act is an offence the prosecutor shall
have the burden of proving that the act was done otherwise than
in private or otherwise than with the consent of the parties or
that any of the parties had not attained the age of twenty-one
(7) For the purposes of this section a man shall be treated as
doing a homosexual act if, and only if, he commits buggery with
another man or commits an act of gross indecency with another
man or is a party to the commission by a man of such an act.
Following this act, the numbers of men being arrested for homosexual behaviour and buggery did not fall; this was due to the growing number of police operations that were focused on catching gay men in the act.
There is anecdotal evidence of ‘pretty policeman,’ sent into public toilets with the sole aim of seducing men, beginning a sexual act, and then arresting them for breaking the law. During our research, although we heard repeatedly about these operations, we could not find any evidence to corroborate this (-none of us were suprised).
We were surprised, however, to find articles relating to these operations, in the 1990’s:
- Sept 3 1993, in an article titled ‘Toilets may close to keep out gays;’
Martin Plane, chief technical administrator, said: “There are certain acts which are permissible in law but certainly not in public.
- Aug 17th 1994, in an article titled ‘Police arrest 23 in watch on lavatories;’
Twenty-three men were arrested as part of a Norfolk police clampdown on sex offences at public lavatories in a busy shopping centre.
The week-long undercover operation at Bowthorpe shopping centre, near Norwich, saw the men arrested and reported for gross indecency.
Officers launched the surveillance operation following complaints from the public and the city council about lewd and obscene acts.
- March 28th 1995, in an article titled ‘Police arrest 18 men in toilets;’
Police have arrested 18 men for alleged gross indecency offences after a week-long operation at underground toilets in Norwich.
Six officers used surveillance equipment to keep watch on toilets at Rose Lane car park after complaints from residents, car park attendants and cleaners.
Police used hi-tech electronic surveillance gear with telescopic lenses, but stressed video cameras were not used – because of the civil liberty implications.
- August 8th 1995, in an article titled ‘Hidden cameras film sex shame in lavatory;’
Police placed hidden cameras in a public lavatory and filmed several men acting indecently together, Cromer magistrates were told yesterday.
The two-day operation with fibre-optic tubes at Church Street led to five men admitting acts of gross indecency.
All credit goes to the EDP and Archant archives, for allowing us to quote these articles.
(It is important to note that in the last article, all those that had been charged were named by the EDP, with their street address attached. We can only imagine the reaction by locals/neighbours to that news).
Strange, that from March ’95 to August ’95, the surveillance operations changed from caring about ‘Civil Liberties’ to seemingly not, and began filming men in a vulnerable state, when they were not aware.
To be continued…