Stop wasting public money prosecuting and gaoling the Naked Rambler.

Regular readers of barristerblogger may recall that I have previously written rather sympathetically about Stephen Gough the booted and bearded ex-Marine, better known as “The Naked Rambler.” Who has just been gaoled for another two and a half years.

Well I apologise for doing so again because there are of course any number of more important issues, except to him. Mr Gough is a strange obsessive, whose determination never to wear clothes has apparently even alienated him from his own children.

 

His obsessiveness is matched by the determination of Hampshire Police and Wessex CPS who have been relentless and very successful in their attempts to ensure that the sensitive residents of Winchester are not caused any distress by the sight of Mr Gough’s private parts. They have persuaded a court to impose an indefinite anti-social behaviour order, or ASBO, on him, which means that he commits a criminal offence if he does not wear his clothes in public. The only exceptions are that he is allowed to go naked in a changing room, on a nudist beach or for a medical examination.  

Gough has spent most of the last 8 years in prison. His latest crime was committed as soon as he was released from his last sentence. On emerging from the grim gates of Winchester Prison, wearing only a pair of boots and carrying his belongings in a pair of HM Prison plastic bags, he was met by Police Constable Moody who was equipped with a tracksuit and charged with a task that has eluded all previous law enforcement officers for the last decade: to persuade the Rambler to put on at least the bottoms. When he refused PC Moody arrested him and took him back into custody.

It is not, in itself, unlawful to go naked in public. It is an offence under S.66 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 to expose ones genitals with intent that someone should thereby be caused “alarm or distress” but nobody has ever suggested that Mr Gough had such an intent. It can be an offence to cause a public nuisance and “harm the morals of the public or their comfort, or obstruct the public in the enjoyment of their rights” but as an earlier and more successful nudist, Vincent Bethell, showed in 2001 juries are reluctant to find that merely being naked in the street does anything of the sort.

Prosecutors are too canny to charge Mr Gough with these offences, not least because there are defences to them and they fear that he would be acquitted.

Mr Gough has in the past been charged under S.5 of the Public Order Act 1986, which makes it an offence to use:

… threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour … within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby ….”

This offence however, is only triable in the Magistrates Court and cannot be punished by a sentence of imprisonment.

So the only way that Mr Gough can be reliably jugged is to tailor him, as it were, a bespoke ASBO. As far as I am aware nobody else is subject to a similar order.

The result is that the only person in the country who actually wants to wander naked around the streets of Winchester is also the only man in the country who commits a crime by doing so.

It is extremely hard to come up with a defence to breaching an ASBO. In the past Mr Gough has been represented by very able counsel who have struggled, without much success, to persuade judges that it breaches his human rights. On this occasion, it sounds as though he was again defending himself, while the prosecution were represented by Simon Jones, a senior barrister.

There were the usual arguments about whether Mr Gough could appear naked in the dock during his trial (the judge, like her predecessors, would not allow it) and, untroubled by any defence arguments the jury duly took less than 15 minutes to convict him.

Judge Jane Miller QC then sentenced him to two and a half years imprisonment, while expressing the wish that he could be found some sort of “closed community” where he could live a life of cloistered nakedness.

Anybody who knows Judge Miller would agree that a more humane and sensible judge would be impossible to find, but in this case I think she was wrong. An eccentric who poses no risk to anybody is being made to spend the rest of his life in gaol – incidentally at huge public expense – because of a law that has been crafted to criminalise his chosen way of life.

He has already spent most of the last 8 years in prison. When he is released (after serving half of his latest sentence) he will have served the equivalent of virtually a twenty year prison sentence. Had he defrauded an elderly lady of her life savings he could not have been sentenced to more than ten years. Had he raped a twelve year old child he might have received a sentence of about 16 years.

Judge Miller obviously recognised the undesirability of these repeated gaol sentences, hence her suggestion that he might be able to live in some “closed community.” Obviously a prison might qualify, but I think she had something rather more congenial in mind.

On costs grounds alone this might make sense. According to the latest Ministry of Justice figures in 2012/13 it cost £37,220 to keep someone in an entirely state run prison for a year (down from £37,878 in 2011/12). (If Mr Gough is kept in an entirely privately built and managed “PFI” prison the cost would be closer to £46,000, although in the bizarre world of prison economics other types of privately run prisons work out cheaper).

Judge Miller probably had in mind somewhere like the Croft Country Club, a “friendly family orientated Naturist club located in the middle of the fens on the Norfolk Cambridgeshire border.” It comes with all sorts of attractions, including a putting green, a sauna and even a petanque court. It is true that it is not a “closed community” but when the fenland fog comes down in late November it probably feels like one. If Mr Gough could be persuaded to

go ‘glamping’ in Ashwood our camping pod (bring your own bedding and towels or bedding bale for hire) …”

the charge would be £135 for a three or four night break, and £150 on Bank holiday weekends. Even assuming no discount for a two and a half year stay, this would work out about half as expensive as accommodating Mr Gough in prison, even if he didn’t bring his own bedding.

All this might provide a solution if the Naked Rambler was willing to eke out the rest of his life playing petanque in Wisbech. Unfortunately he would rather wander around Winchester, or, failing that, go to prison.

The solution is a very simple one.

Stop prosecuting him for breaching his ASBO. If he does things that would constitute a crime if done by others by all means throw the book at him.

Otherwise please stop wasting our money on what has long since become the persecution of a harmless eccentric.  He has chosen to look ridiculous. The law is making itself look ridiculous.

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Author: Matthew

I have been a barrister for over 25 years, specialising in crime. You may also have come across some of my articles I have written on legal issues for The Times, Standpoint, Daily Telegraph or Criminal Law & Justice Weekly

13 thoughts on “Stop wasting public money prosecuting and gaoling the Naked Rambler.”

  1. Thank you, yet again, for drawing the attention of Government to the ridiculous situation that the law enforcement authorities have got themselves into and the huge waste of public money involved in court cases and keeping this harmless eccentric in prison.

  2. A quite outrageous situation of a man breaking no laws, but the authorities are hell bent on stopping him all the same.
    The wholesale abuse of the ASBO system is deplorable, possibility even corrupt.

    As the author suggests, it is unlikely that Gough would want to be encarserated in a naturist establishment anymore than he wishes to be encarserated in one of Her Majesty’s prisons.

    The saddest part of this whole story is that while police resources, court time, and a prison cell are being wasted on a harmless eccentric, real criminals are evading justice.

  3. As Mr Bumble said, “The law is an ass”. ln the matter of Mr Gough that really appears to be the case.
    Do our forces of law and order really have nothing better to do?

    Has anybody raised the possibility of a ticket to the Isle of Levant or Berlin with Mr Gough? There has to be a practical solution to this nonsense.

  4. Excellent comments and observations once again Matthew. By far the best in-depth account of Stephen Gough’s latest trial at Winchester Court was reported by the Eastleigh News. See link http://www.eastleighnews.co.uk/2014/10/naked-rambler-gets-another-two-years/ . Any thoughts, Matthew, on how Stephen Gough’s next case in 2015 could be conducted better by the defence when he is inevitably arrested once he steps outside of the prison gates in June 2015.

    1. Thanks for the kind comment and also for the link to the Eastleigh News which, as you say is a very good report. The same report by Stephen Slominski appears here. Stephen is not just a reporter on the Eastleigh News but also a journalism student at Winchester Universty. Judging by this report he will go very far!

      However, as to how his defence could be improved – I’m afraid I don’t offer legal advice on this blog.

  5. I suggest instead that Steve Gough should be released, but be given a police escort wherever he goes. This would calm the public’s justifiable fear that he is a wild man about to run amok, and the accompanying police officer could explain to anyone seeing Mr Gough for the first time that “It’s just the Naked Rambler out and about.” Hence no alarm, distress or harassment (so common in this wicked, wicked world) could ever be claimed.

    Think how reassuring it must have been in the 19th century, when there was a law that required mechanically-powered road vehicles to be preceded by a man on foot carrying a red flag. “Be not alarmed, good people: this source of danger is well controlled.” Just like that.

    1. An imaginative idea John, but based on 3 police officers each working an 8 hour shift 24 x 7 I fear it wuold be considerably more expensive than bangning him up in a Category A gaol. But it surely wouldn’t be a job for proper PCs. It might make a good introduction to policing for hobby bobby Special Constables or even young Community Support Officers keen to get on. Even so, I’m not sure Mr Gough would tolerate having a shadow all the time.

  6. There has been other serial nude offenders who were subjected to an ASBO restriction attempt barring them from appearing naked in public.

    “Serial flasher Richard Stofer – who in 2005 was given a five-year anti-social behaviour order (Asbo), banning him from stripping in public anywhere in Sussex – was handed a 12-week suspended jail sentence at Lewes Crown Court.

    The 68-year-old former supermarket worker was jailed in 2008 for eight months because of his flashing exploits and breaching his Asbo.

    The court was told that Stofer’s two offences related to him sunbathing naked on a public beach near his home in May 2012, and taking his thong off when officers went to arrest him in June 2012.

    A Sussex Police spokeswoman said: “We are obviously aware of Richard Stofer and have worked hard to obtain evidence to charge and take him to court for indecent exposure. He is now on the sexual offenders’ register.

    “We are working with partner agencies like Eastbourne Borough Council to try to deal with him.” The council said they could not comment on Stofer, of Milton Road, Eastbourne.

    In July 2006, police caught him lying naked in a neighbour’s garden in Victoria Drive, Eastbourne, while she was out.

    He exposed himself to staff at the Tesco petrol station near his home in Eastbourne in April 2007.

    Stofer also spent five days in custody in 2007 for allegedly flouting his Asbo by sunbathing naked on Hollywell beach, Eastbourne.

    In 2009, Stofer told The Argus he loved sunbathing naked.”

    Source – http://www.theargus.co.uk/news/9989463.Serial_OAP_flasher_whipped_off_thong_for_cops/

    ….and then there was the naked practical joker Mark Roberts (now retired)

    “AN ASBO bid against Merseyside’s serial exhibitionist was rejected after a judge ruled people were amused by streaking. N ASBO bid against Merseyside’s serial exhibitionist was rejected after a judge ruled people were amused by streaking.

    Merseyside police applied for the order after Mark Roberts ran on to the 18th green at last year’s Open Championships clutching a fluffy squirrel to his genitals and a golf ball between his buttocks.

    The 42-year-old, of Baden Road, Old Swan, has spent more than a decade streaking at sporting events, including the Grand National, Roayl Ascot, the Winter Olympics and the Superbowl.

    But Judge Nick Sanders rejected the police bid to have him banned from sporting events around the country, ruling Mr Roberts’ behaviour “annoying” rather than “anti-social.”

    Judge Sanders said: “In the vast majority of cases there is a feeling of amusement or of tolerance. That is not to say there are not people who do not approve.”

    Speaking after the case, Mr Roberts said he was delighted “humour has prevailed.”

    Jim Clarke, prosecuting, told Wirral magistrates court a website dedicated to Mr Roberts’ activities suggested he was likely to continue.

    Inspector Paul Harrison, who was head of policing at last year’s Open in Hoylake, told the court he had been “grossly disappointed” when Mr Roberts invaded the green.

    He said he was also “distressed” his 14 year-old son, who was present to watch the tournament, could have witnessed it.

    But Laurence Lee, defending, said his client wanted to give pleasure to other people and said he had not streaked anywhere for a year.”

    Source – http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/no-wont-give-serial-streaker-3505461

    Although our 3 naked ASBO dodgers swing from a very different mindset philosophy, Stephen Gough -the naked activist greeter, Mark Roberts – the practical joker streaker and Richard Stofer – the fun-loving sunshine seeker, what they all have in common is acquiring questionable celebrity status, fame and a very misfortune.

  7. I have small kids. And I’m a woman. And I can tell you – I don’t give a toss if this guy wanders around naked. I don’t care if my kids see him (would be a good opportunity to talk about how strangely different people are and how pointing and staring are rude, and how if someone is not doing any harm it’s best to live and let live and WHAT LIBERALISM MEANS). I do care about the waste and expense of this prosecution, and the ILLIBERALISM. Thanks for highlighting this absurd case again.

  8. I do have some sympathy for Mr Gough however I do feel that he brings some of this on himself by his complete unwillingness to compromise.

    I watched a documentary about him and the interviewer warned him he was about to walk past a primary school at closing time. There were a lot of little boys and girls about. He point blank refused to change his route and insisted on walking past the school and children. He was then arrested. This could have been avoided by changing his route.

    It appears to be that he is deliberately trying to wind people up.

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