Are we seriously going to lock up the Naked Rambler for the rest of his life?

I read with despair the BBC’s report about Stephen Gough,  known as the Naked Rambler, embarking on yet another prison sentence.  He was sentenced to 11 months in Hampshire yesterday, having spent six years in prison in Scotland as well. His crime? Refusing to wear clothes in public. He’s not harming anyone. He’s just walking.

I also thought that people were remanded in custody before trial only for the most serious offences, if they were likely to jump bail or be a danger to the public.

I first wrote about him a couple of years ago on my own blog.

Public nudity isn’t my bag, which is something I’m sure you’ll all be very relieved to hear, but in the end of the day it’s not going to harm me or anyone else to see a naked man walking up the street minding his own business.  If he was harassing people, well, that’s clearly a different matter, but I think we’d still have to ask if prison was the right place for him.

I feel saddened that we are behaving in such an uptight way. It just doesn’t seem necessary. Are we actually going to keep him in prison  for the rest of his life? Simply because he doesn’t want to wear clothes? Really?

And if he’s kept in solitary because of other prisoners’ sensibilities, or for his own protection, I really can’t see how that’s doing him any good – and there’s a fairly major chance it’s harming him.

In a week where serious sexual assaults against 9 children merited only 15 months in jail, how can it be right that Gough has spent the better part of the last decade in solitary confinement?

I raised the issue of his imprisonment in Scotland at a civil liberties fringe meeting at Federal Conference last year. The panel, which included Greg Foxsmith, Anthony Hook and Julian Huppert all said that the situation in England was likely to be just as bad these days. Previously, he’d been left to his own devices there and it was only in Scotland that he’d felt the force of the law. The way I understand it,  he could spend the next two decades being arrested and re-arrested for breaching his ASBO every time he’s released. Is this the most efficient use of our scarce resources and police time

There will be some who will say that we can’t allow someone to be in persistent contempt of court. Surely the law has to be proportionate, though? Locking people up indefinitely for something like this does not fit easily into the proportionate category as far as I am concerned.

This brings to mind the immortal words of Harry Willcock, I’m a liberal and I am against this sort of thing.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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36 Comments

  • The Burkha damages society and offends me infinitely more than some bloke walking around naked yet that is allowed. The law is an ass!

  • There is another view one might take. He could simply stop behaving like this.

    It’s OK to say no-one is hurt by his actions, but some people will be offended and even traumatized by this man’s behavior. Some perfectly ordinary people don’t like nudity. They also have the right not to be offended.

    I support the John Stewart Mill principle of freedom of action unless it harms others. The mans behavior one might have considered just eccentric if he walked around naked once or twice or streaked across a games pitch. He’s now doing it at all times and that makes it unacceptable.

  • A Social Liberal 20th Jun '13 - 4:22pm

    Whilst I accept that there may be the very occasional person who is offended by nudity I do not accept that most, or even some, people are. Everyone sees at least one naked body every day – their own – without being offended. As for traumatised by seeing another persons parts, I suggest that if anyone is affected by seeing something so natural then they were traumatised by some earlier life event.

  • Adam Corlett 20th Jun '13 - 4:30pm

    “The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience and their right to develop their talents to the full. We aim to disperse power, to foster diversity and to nurture creativity.”

  • Certainly surprised by your assertion, mickft, that people “have a right to be not offended”. Where did that come from? I don’t think any human rights legislation contains that. As liberals, we would be very slow to adopt such a proposition!

  • Steve Griffiths 20th Jun '13 - 4:55pm

    mickft

    There is no right not to be offended and nor should there be in the future. If there had been, a good portion of British TV, stage and radio comedy would have had legal action against the broadcasters and writers by now!

  • Frank Furter 20th Jun '13 - 5:01pm

    He was remanded in custody, rather than bailed, because the court had substantial grounds for believing he would commit an offence on bail, if given bail. That is, he would continue to breach his ASBO by walking around without clothes. That is the law. Second, he has been jailed for breaching his ASBO. An ASBO is a form of injunction forbidding a certain course of action. It is a court order the meaning and consequences of which would have been explained when it was imposed. That is also the law. Personally, I could not care less if he walks around naked, but I do care about the rule of law. Gough has wilfully and knowingly flouted court orders – he thinks he is above the law. He is not, and if he continues he will spend more time in prison – that is his decision.

  • Anthony Hawkes 20th Jun '13 - 5:03pm

    The legal framework for ASBO’s was always a bit dubious. No crime need be committed to have an ASBO but, if the terms were not followed, then you are in breach of the law. Locking this person up for, potentially, the rest of his life over a minor offence surely must count as cruel and unusual punishment.

    He may be eccentric but he does not harm anyone. If he walks past me and I feel offended by his nakedness, I promise to look the other way.

  • Yet a naked cycle ride took place in Canterbury last week and the police didn’t stop that

  • Adam Corlett 20th Jun '13 - 5:51pm

    As a political party we should be most concerned with whether the law needs to be changed.

    I’m unclear whether in this case it’s any of the Public Order Act (even if it’s simply misapplied), contempt of court, or (in Scotland) breach of the peace. Maybe the blame lies solely with ASBOs: that – as Anthony says – he’s never committed a crime but the power to give ASBOs for almost anything has ultimately led to years in prison. So given that the government is hoping to replace ASBOs, perhaps <a href="http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2013-14/antisocialbehaviourcrimeandpolicingbill.html"the bill that's currently going through the Commons is a chance for Lib Dems to improve the law.

    Instead, it sounds like the draft bill will open up this sort of treatment to any behaviour “capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person” or anything that the particular magistrates deem “antisocial behaviour”.

    The ‘Naturist Action Group’ believes “the potential for a miscarriage of justice is higher with this new flawed bill than is currently endured by naturists. […] We contend that this bill is bad law in the making, and would urge readers to inform their MPs of the need for amendment.”

  • David Allen 20th Jun '13 - 6:29pm

    Hmm. As a liberal, I wouldn’t defend shouting “Fire” in a crowded cinema. I wouldn’t disagree that there should be an offence of behaviour liable to cause a breach of the peace. I would think that a three-year-old walking down the street might well be very upset to come face-to-face with a big swinging whatnot. So might a woman who had been assaulted by somebody else.

    I think the police should only arrest if they have actual evidence that someone has been seriously upset. But if they do have that evidence, should they not act upon it?

  • paul barker 20th Jun '13 - 8:22pm

    Both the article & comment thread contain a good deal of insulting & irrelevant comment. I am deeply bothered by public nudity, not offended, disturbed, hurt. That gives me the right to object whether my feelings are the result of childhood traumas or not, unless I am to be judged insane. People have the right to say to others “stop that, youre hurting me” & sometimes society has to judge whos being most unreasonable.
    This man can gain his (relative) freedom anytime by simply agreeing to keep some of his cothes on in public.

  • Eddie Sammon 20th Jun '13 - 9:07pm

    I agree with Paul Barker. These extreme liberals who think the police don’t need to intervene when someone walks around naked are putting people off the party.

    To those who say it is out of proportion: well, what is the point in letting him out if he says he is just going to do it again? The public doesn’t want unrepentant and unrehabilitated criminals walking around the street and the sooner liberals learn that the better.

    I know that laws aren’t always ethical and the label criminal or terrorist isn’t always the right one, but this is not like the requirement to keep your clothes on in public is an extreme or oppressive law,where defying it could be ethically permissible.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 20th Jun '13 - 9:09pm

    Paul, you might not like public nudity but I’m not sure I understand how exactly a middle aged man going on his way and minding his own business is actually harming you. Can you explain, please?

    And do you really think that it’s proportionate to keep him deprived of liberty indefinitely because of it – and, like I say, most of it in solitary which really can’t be good for him.

  • Mark Inskip 20th Jun '13 - 9:20pm

    One of our dogs is bothered by people wearing hats. Should we be bringing in a ban on them?

  • What Lee Griffin said.

  • Greg Foxsmith 21st Jun '13 - 9:38am

    It’s easier to keep him locked up because be is a one- off e centric.
    But what if there were a group action – lets say a charity walk with 1000 participants- would anyone advocate locking them all up? It’s a waste of time and money imprisoning someone for nudity
    Ultimately that is the pernicious aspect of the AS BO. It results in people being imprisoned for behaviour which is, of itself, unimprisonable.
    Example one – the alcoholic “park drinker” given an asbo not to have alcohol in a public place, inevitably breaches, locked up.
    Example 2 – a prostitute given ASBO not to “loiter” does so anyway maybe forced to by pimp, locked up for breach
    Our prisons are increasingly full of drunks and prostitutes, that even the sanctimonious Victorians would not have imprisoned. ( loitering under vagrancy act carried a fine not imprisonment)

  • If public nudity were legal, how could indecent exposure – which can be an unpleasant offence especially where children are involved – still be dealt with?

  • A Social Liberal 21st Jun '13 - 10:35am

    Public nudity is legal, otherwise the artist who gets hundreds of people at a time to undress and pose for his photographs would not get so many volunteers. Amazing how they don’t get charged. This is just more British uptight rubbish being paraded as public morality.

  • Andrew Colman 21st Jun '13 - 11:04am

    Jailing the ” naked rambler” or anyone else who is not a dangerously violent criminal is a gross waste of “scarce” public money. Jailing someone costs about £1000 per day, so imprisoning this man must of cost taxpayers £millions.
    How many hospital operations could have been carried out with that money? How many lives could have been saved?

    I note also the case of the teacher who eloped with a 15 year old pupil has also come to court, another gross waste of public money and an insult to the victims of genuine child abuse and abduction.

    These people should be doing community service or be fined in some way

  • One of the problems faced is that he seems unwilling to compromise. For example this was reported from an earlier hearing in Scotland.

    “The police officers who arrested you told you that if you carried on your journey you would pass a playground occupied by children. You were given three options – one, change direction; two, cover your private parts; or three, enter a police van which would take you around the playpark and release you on your way at the other side.

    “Despite that, you refused, which showed disregard for other members of the public, in particular children who have the right not to see naked men.”

    Would it really have infringed his liberties to have avoided the school ?????? With rights come responsibilities and I would say the police offered three options one of which did not change his right to be naked in public at all…

  • Andrew Colman 21st Jun '13 - 1:23pm

    Perhaps the “Naked Rambler” could define his activity as a religion.

    He could then go to the European court of human rights, get his convictions quashed and get millions in compensation from all the characters that have pursued him. He could then go of and retire on a tropical island where he could pursue his religion in peace with lots of pretty girls to keep him company.

  • children who have the right not to see naked men

    What an absolutely bizarre comment!

    No wonder our kids are so screwed up.

  • @MBoy
    Whether or not you agree with the comments of the Scottish Judge, there was a compromise available that would have allowed him to continue to ramble naked and the sensitivities of others to be considered. Would it really have hurt to walk around ?

  • Stuart Mitchell 21st Jun '13 - 5:01pm

    So Page 3 is Bad, Miss England is Bad, but a man parading his meat and two veg in public (including outside children’s playgrounds) is fine.

    Those who say there is “no right to not be offended” are factually wrong. They may disagree with it, but the right does exist in certain circumstances – that is the way our society is ordered at the moment.

  • Stuart Mitchell 21st Jun '13 - 5:09pm

    I think that those making excuses for this foolish man are not doing him any favours at all. A man who, in the circumstances Steve Way describes, chooses incarceration over freedom clearly has a major problem. Telling him that he is right and should just carry on doing it (which many posters here are doing) is the worst possible advice.

    Personally I think the answer is in his own hands and he and his supporters should stop blaming the law for his problems.

  • Caron, you’re absolutely right.

  • Stuart Mitchell 22nd Jun '13 - 9:58am

    @George
    Great post – one of the funniest parodies of liberalism I’ve ever read.

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th Jun '13 - 11:57pm

    Caron Lindsay

    Paul, you might not like public nudity but I’m not sure I understand how exactly a middle aged man going on his way and minding his own business is actually harming you. Can you explain, please?

    If a man intends to sexually abuse a child, he may well start by exposing his genitals to the child. Start off by getting the child used to the sight, then to used to the touch, and so on.

    It may be that the person in this case really does not have any underlying sexual feelings in his wish to be naked in public. However, it happens to be the case that most men who expose their genitals in public are doing so in order to gain sexual satisfaction, and it is often a prelude to more than just exposure.

    We are cautious about public nudity, particularly with children, because so often it is a stage in sexual abuse. The concern is that if children learn to be relaxed about it, they may more easily be led into situations where they are abused.

    I would have thought that this is fairly obvious, and did not need to be spelled out.

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