THE LOG BOOKS
Season 1 Episode 4 “Pretty policemen”
Presenters: Tash Walker, Adam Smith
Producers: Shivani Dave, Tash Walker, Adam Smith
Music: Tom Foskett-Barnes
Artwork: Natalie Doto
This episode contains difficult stories of persecution by the police.
[telephone dial tone, music]
February 13th 1976:
The cottage on the third floor of the department store in Oxford Street is very dangerous at the moment. Staff or plain clothed police watching everyone and looking under cubicle doors. I didn’t go to the car park - because I don’t really go cottaging.
This is a log book entry from February 5 1977:
Just received a phone call from St Austell in Cornwall - the caller informed me that 28 men had been arrested for gross indecency there. There was a police raid at a party and all the men were taken to the police station, stripped, searched and some kept overnight.
TW: The log books are literally littered with people calling Switchboard reporting the countless police raids or undercover police officers infiltrating all these cottaging sites and gay venues.
AS: Talking about this topic for me is kind of like interesting and intense - because it always makes me question would I go to a toilet which kind of smells of poo and piss. Maybe there might be police people there - what would I have done to get sex?
TW: You’re listening to the Log Books – stories from Britain’s LGBTQ+ history and conversations about being queer today.
AS: In partnership with Switchboard: the LGBT+ helpline. I’m Adam Smith.
TW: I’m Tash Walker.
Episode 4 - “Pretty policemen”
AS: The theme for this episode, Tash, is the police.
TW: So, Adam what exactly is cottaging and cruising?
AS: They are both random sex acts - between men - in public places. Cruising is the activity of looking for that, and then finding that. And cottaging is basically the same thing but is in a specific location which is known for that. And that tends to be public loos and certain laybys that kind of thing.
These log book entries are from the late 70s - when sex between men had been partially decriminalised, in 1967, but there were pretty strict restrictions on that activity still. So, that act in 1967 - decriminalised anal sex between men - but only between two men. So, if you had more than one partner at the same time you were still breaking the law. And was also only in private so in a private residence. If you were in a block of flats and you were having a sex with one man in one flat that was not considered a private residence if there were people in other flats in the same block, so you had to be in a house - a detached house -in the middle of know where with one other person and you both had to be above the age of 21. So anal sex was only partially decriminalised because the age of consent was not the same for gay sex as it was for heterosexual sex, and it had all these extra conditions around it about privacy and things
TW: And then the age of consent was reduced further in 1994 -down to 18 -and then again in 2000 down to 16 - which was around the same time as we turned 16.
AS: That’s right. I turned 16 in 2000 and so that was the year that I was able to have sex legally - although I have to say I did not. And I did not have sex for a very long time after that -that is another story…
TW: In this episode we are going to hear from a guy chased out of a public toilet for trying to have sex, a lawyer who used to defend people that got cruising, and a former police officer who used to check laybys for men having sex.
I once got stopped when I was about 18. My name is Julian Howes. I’m 63 years old this year. Oxford Circus was always high risk as it was quite a small cottage. It’s by Oxford Circus - the busiest intersection in London and I was down there, and I was just …. somebody was waving their willy at the urinal and I looked over and they went and put their hand out and I put my hand out. Then suddenly the person next to me said ‘You’re nicked’ so as we walked up the stairs - they both were behind me, and they hadn’t shackled me or … ‘We are going up … We are going to take you ….’ So, I just belted it, dear. But you know a lot of people weren’t so lucky … at all.
This is a log book entry from May 15 1975:
Last night raid on heath behind Jack Straw’s Castle pub 12.30-12.45 am. Using women police as well. Almost everyone got away - probably about 50 or more police involved.
This is a log book entry from July 21st 1975
Caller rang to inform us that there is definite purge on Holland Walk. Eight people arrested Friday night. Fined £40 each on Saturday morning. All pleaded guilty. But all other reports I’ve had indicate that there is nothing unusual in that - they do it every now and again. What are we going to do about it? Us, gay people?
TW: I think it is interesting to reflect on what big impact the partial decriminalization of homosexuality in 67 had on the arrest of people for this act - pre and post that year.
AS: Exactly because we know that the police had a reaction to that decriminalising which was basically a back lash against it. As Neville tells us.
There was a terrific public back lash. Unfortunately the commissioner of police at that time – and this is common knowledge and has been commented on ad infinitum – they were absolutely horrified. They had good looking young constables in plain clothes, of course, lurking about -literally. Arrests were very very frequent . after the decriminalisation. Not before. It was rather all rather scary. You were taken off, you were told - I’ve got a big torch in my pocket and if you make the slightest move to get away -you will get it across the back of your neck, you were whistled in and you were told: ‘Now now now - no need to take on - because this will all be over very shortly.’ That was that. But one got a criminal record.
1981 - the reason I remember 81 so clearly is that was the year that the gay pride demonstration -and it was a demonstration, it wasn’t a parade - was attacked by the police. It was one of biggest -and an African National Congress demonstrations against apartheid was also taking place in London and West London the same day.
AS: This is Terry Stuart who shared with us his experience of the law against importuning – which is just chatting someone up for sex. His story about that so called offense starts not long after the gay pride demonstration in 1981.
It was about a month later. Maybe six weeks later - that I was in the cottage on Charing Cross Road- it’s the back of the National Portrait Gallery- in the middle of the road and I think it is some sort of tourist novelty shop there now. These two policemen came in and they came in and arrested me and said they were taking me to Bow Street police station and charge me with importuning – importuning. I was let go. I wasn’t held for anything length. I appeared at Magistrate at Bow Street Magistrate court pleading not guilty and was then referred to the Crown Court. I was found guilty of importuning, and I was fined £20. The only evidence that was presented to the judge was the statement of both the police officers which was exactly the same. They sat down and colluded with each other in the evidence and I thought ‘well they are just lying through their teeth.’ My barrister did ask them how many times had they arrested people in that toilet over the last 12 months and they said 500. So clearly it was a little honey pot.
TW: A criminal record sticks with you - even after laws and social norms change
AS: We spoke to Alan - who is still living with his own record.
TW: Alan wanted to share his story but preferred to stay anonymous so here is an actor voicing his words.
I was in a park at night. With no one in sight- apart from the chap who was with me. I like to call it ‘admiring the beauties of nature in the park’. Everybody knew how dangerous it was -whatever happened it wasn’t going to happen to you. So when it did - it wasn’t very nice. It was five minutes before the magistrates but boy did, I get the lash of his tongue before a hefty fine. There were other magistrates around who took a very different view and unfortunately in those days magistrates didn’t have guidelines they just did whatever the justices manual said. Some would produce a maximum sentence others said -I can’t see any bother here, go away. Looking back, you think -stupid arse, weren’t you? -which is why I didn’t hold too much a beef against the pretty police at the time. I do now because it was entrapment but at the time, I thought - I’ve lined myself up for this and I’ve got to swallow the medicine. The magistrate could have been less nasty but that’s the way it crumbles, and I think most people felt the same. There was a greater sense of hierarchy then - the police, the magistrates, there was more respect and fear. There was this hierarchy this sense of law and order you’ve just got to … play the right sort of game whether you considered it right or wrong.
TW: Throughout this time with the increase with the number of calls that were coming through to Switchboard -reporting police raids or police attacks Switchboard’s role quickly started to become much more of an advice giving service as to what to do if you were attacked - going on to specifically naming solicitors that you could get in contact with.
TW: There is a piece of paper pasted into the log book on September 14 1976 - which is a typed on a clearly on a typewriter - typed memo to volunteers about what they should do if the police actually started to questioning them as volunteers of Switchboard. And is entitled ‘Don’t ask a policemen’ in the event of the police uniformed or plain clothed calling at the premises in pursuits of any enquiries the following courses of action should be adopted by the volunteer on duty and there is a whole list of things such as number one don’t let them in unless they’ve got a warrant and also number three- if they’ve got a warrant and if it is valid let them but called David Offenbach immediately and also inform the chairperson. And number four is - you must not make any statement without David Offenbach present.
I’m David Offenbach. I’m a solicitor and I’m 75 years old. I was very active in the 1970s and 1980s in representing people who were charged with gross indecency.
This is an entry from 1 June 1978:
A guy phoned to say he’d been charged with importuning after talking to a guy he knew outside the Coleherne. He hadn’t been in the pub - he’d just been passing. After walking away a policemen came up to him and said’ You’re nicked’ - a la Sweeny They seemed quite pleased about this fact and said he was the fifth that night. He’s been taken to court on the 7th June so I gave him D Offenbach’s number.
Well, this is a log book entry from May 25th 1978. It’s a call from two guys living in Woking who went to a pub in Guildford tonight - the pub is the Royal Oak. It’s quite gay. They left and headed towards the Rail station when two guys who had followed them out of the pub attacked them. Paul, the younger of the two, ran back to the pub as the guys ran off and got people to help to try and catch them with no result. His lover is 24 and the two are subsequently worried about reporting this matter to the police.
That’s sounds like a fairly typical phone call that Gay Switchboard would have received at the time. And we would subsequently hear from the person who had made the phone call. They wanted to come and see us as soon as possible and we would try and make sure the appointments were very quick. And obviously people were very anxious about their careers, about their reputation, often about their family circumstances, and what the consequences of a conviction for gross indecency would be. And most of these cases arose from the allegation that sexual activity had taken place in a public place - it may be in a lavatory or in it could have been in a public park.
Justin Gau a barrister in private practice. In terms of the gravity of the being convicted for gross indecency or for indecent exposure - you would lose your job. There was almost no job that would employ somebody that had been convicted of that. In the old days people were imprisoned for it - for short period- because there is nothing quite a successful at stopping people being gay is locking them up with 500 men.
For me the fear or the actuality of getting arrested wouldn’t have not been more than a minor inconvenience - because I was already out, I was already … didn’t really care anyway. But for the majority of people who were who were in that situation - it might have it …would have … definitely meant being in the local papers ... the arrest. It would have, often, led to the end of their job - that’s … not just if they were a teacher or a youth worker or anything like that was working in a bank being a civil servant working as a delivery driver. Any occupation.
For many people it was almost the end of their lives. I mean John Gielgud was caught cottaging, and I think he was fined £5. But it was for many years he couldn’t work properly -he was denied a knighthood for many many years and so the effect upon people - grand or ordinary - could be devastating.
TW: It is so difficult to hear that today and just think about what was going through people’s minds.
AS: And it also makes you think about what the police were really up to when they were doing it and how they were using their power to entrap people who were just wanting to have sex.
So that’s why we spoke to a former police officer.
The lay bys - from memory- one was on a busy road, one was on a dual carriage way. The one in particular I remember was on a quiet road … like an A road - but sort of early hours of the morning and late at night not particularly busy and not lit.
Hi, I’m Lorraine Moir. I’m 56 and I’m a retired police officer. You would drive in and out if no one was there you would just drive in and out and you would come back again … if we weren’t busy. There was always kind of a regular policing of them and if there was a car in -you would stop the police vehicle, you would get out, and you would question the driver as to why they were in the lay by. At the end of the day … men were coming in to have sex. And I can remember one particular officer that I worked with was particularly … focused on the reason that they were there. Purely because … we were identifying a particular offence and preventing them … individuals from coming back and using that public space. I remember this one particular officer… asked this chap to get out of the car and was really in his face … I’m talking nose to nose and being … very intimidating, threatening, to say that obviously ‘I want your details, we are going to write and tell your family that this is what you are doing.’ It was bullying. No doubt about it was bullying. It was never professional.
This is an entry from 18th July 1975.
A guy phoned- he’d been caught in a cottage near St Albans, North Orbital Road. It’s a well-known cottage apparently. There is a hole in the wall and the policeman on the roof. I suggested Offenbach’s. The caller wanted it to be as quiet as possible and he will write and let us know what ensues. He is not due to appear in court for two months.
Often some of these conveniences had been sort of set up- in a way- or adapted in a way, where it was more easy for the police to convict. So if there were holes in the wall, if there were places where a police officer could be concealed - there would tend to be more cases from those conveniences than from others generally.
Many of these cases the evidence seemed to me to be very sketchy… and when you looked at the evidence you could see immediately flaws in the evidence. So, if there was a case involving a public convenience -you’d get the evidence in advance, and you would have a look at it and you would ask the client - what happened? did this happen? and if he said ‘no’ it didn’t something else happened - then you would have to go an inspect to see whether or not the layout would allow this. Because remember the prosecution have to prove the case -beyond reasonable doubt - its not for the defence to prove that the defendant is innocent it’s for the prosecutor to prove the defendant is guilty beyond reasonable doubt. And so, it is for the prosecution to make its case - but if we saw for example that actually the sight line from where the officer said he was standing – you couldn’t actually see what the officer claimed that he saw then we would have a photographer there - with photographs - and the photographer would come and give evidence and say -well if the officers - then they couldn’t see - look at the angles ….
AS: Almost sounds like a sport …
TW: But it definitely wasn’t there was so much at risk.
AS: Yeah, sport because it sounds from Lorraine that some of the police thought that going after men that were looking for sex with men was fun.
Every police station had a bar after your night shifts the bar was open it was run by the police service. So it was a time then to discuss and don’t get me wrong… police officers needed space to talk about some of the experiences they’d had whilst they had been policing … it can be quite stressful – but, that said, within that environment … it was a space where things were spoken about … about the gay community -men particularly - and it was laughed about it – it was seen as a gam. There was so much testosterone going around but heterosexual testosterone -so when it came to going out on the late shifts, on the night shifts, and policing the lay bys for the men that were cottaging - it was a way of asserting power.
And I think that’s what was behind it. With policing within the gay community, it carried a stronger message because it wasn’t just about … a message of actually – this is illegal – it was a message that – actually, I don’t like what you are doing, as well.
One of the log book entries here from May 29 1978 goes:
Two incidents reported to me last night of police arrests. One outside the Coleherne at 1.10 am - two police officers in plain clothes physically carried someone into a waiting car which sped off at fast speed. And the other - which was more disturbing -was a plain clothes police officer in Tricky Dickies disco at Green Man last night -a special disco for bank holiday Monday. The person who called now states that he went outside with the police men and went down a back alley. As soon as he started undoing his fly a police car turned up and carted him off to the Canon Road police station where they stripped him and forced him into a medical examination. I felt that if the caller was stating the truth, then something has to be done about it if police are infiltering into discos.
And it makes me angry -thinking back to that time- of focusing all their anger, and intolerance, and homophobic feelings towards men that were just trying to … form relationships and meet in public. I used to feel really uncomfortable and stood back for any action – I’d never take the lead role because it didn’t right … at that time I was the only female on the shift. I felt as a lesbian - whilst for me I wasn’t out - I don’t feel safe to come out - it wasn’t safe to come out. But I was part of what was a service bullying a minority community. And that’s what I found really challenging … really really difficult.
This is a log book entry from July 9th 1976:
Caller, Shaun Matthews, explained that he had just been released from Kensington Police Station - after having been detained, along with some friends, for some 36 hours. It seems the police rioted the flat yesterday lunchtime 8 July 79 after receiving evidence -presumably that some of them were under 21.
The caller -who is 16 -told the police that he was a willing partner. From what I can gather the police had no warrant when they raided and searched the flat. Documents, passports, and diaries were taken. Perhaps something can be done on the point of issue to pressure the Home Office etc as to the absurdity of the law and the bad treatment of gay people when they land up in prison in cases such as this?
AS: That log book entry is particularly harrowing because it is so detailed - with things like the police not having a warrant, with the caller saying that he was a willing partner even though he was 16 -which still would have meant that it was illegal because the age of consent then was 21 - although the age of consent is 16, of course. It just sounds like really really awful treatment, and you just can’t imagine something like that happening now for someone who is having sex – having their diaries taken, their place searched, and all of that just for having sex.
TW: Yeah, just for me my initial reaction is just that your home being invaded, and you know … I can’t imagine the levels of persecution, and fear, and anger that was sort of circulating at this time. As someone who wasn’t alive then I can only understand it in the context of today and it just seems … outrageous.
AS: And bringing us up to today - let’s return to Terry. You heard him talk earlier about being found guilty of importuning, one of the offences that was frequently used by police to persecute men who had sex with men.
I went into a public toilet. I was by myself. I wasn’t with anyone. And I’m convicted of an offence - and still carrying that offence 35 years later … 38 years later. Simply down to the word of two police officers. So, if there was a crime committed then the crime was committed by those two. Lying about me - allowing the court case to proceed on their dishonesty.
There are men living today with convictions and with cautions for offences like buggery, like gross indecency but also like soliciting, like importuning, and all kinds of other crimes that were used to control same sex sexuality. I’m Justin Bengry and I teach Queer History at Goldsmiths, University of London. Those men live with those convictions and cautions which can impact their opportunities for employment, it can impact opportunities for volunteering, if they are working with children, if they are working with any vulnerable groups. And many of them have suffered incredibly with the consequences of those records sticking with them -sometimes decades after what they might have thought was a very small offence or something that would just be forgotten or something that only included a small fine.
Yeah, 38 years later I still have a conviction on my record. So, If I go for a job or if I go to join an organisation that wants to know do I have criminal record -then I won’t get past the front door. Because it is still there. After 2012 when the Home Office decided, they were going to change the rules - sections of the Sexual Offense Act would be changed - I thought I might be eligible for …to have that conviction removed. But I wasn’t. And then later on in 2017 - when the Allan Turing ruling came - again I thought it was an opportunity to do it. Again, I was refused it.
In 2012 there’s the Protection of Freedoms Act which includes a scheme for disregarding some historical homosexual offences. Really only cases -some cases -of gross indecency and of buggery. Later the pardon system came in 2017 as an amendment to a policing and crime bill and that opened up the possibility of men being pardoned for these crimes. But ultimately the pardon doesn’t mean that much - because you can’t actually secure a pardon unless you already have a disregard.
The biggest problem with the current system is that it actually leaves out the vast majority of people that were charged with crimes relating to same sex acts and same sex desires. So the first thing is that right now its only buggery and gross indecency which are disregardable and therefore pardonable. But in fact, many many more men would have been charged with other offences - things like importuning and soliciting which would be anything from actively soliciting someone for sex to chatting some one up. You can have a blemish on your record simply for chatting someone up and that sticks with you as a sex crime today. The pardon and disregard system also explicitly excludes any activity that took place in a public toilet -because that is still illegal in England and Wales -that’s still covered under the 2003 Sexual Offences Act which explicitly forbids any sexual activity in a public lavatory.
I reckon that I was one of the lucky ones - because I’m 66 now - come through my life without … a lot of people didn’t weren’t able to do that. And there are people -that I know -had mental breakdowns – they’ve lost their mental wellbeing. Others have committed suicide … families have lost their fathers. It’s been horrendous.
According to the government’s own figures there were some 50,000 convictions that were recorded on the police national computer - but even their own researchers determined only 16,000 of those convictions would even be eligible for the disregard, that eventually came to be available. So already we should be asking questions about this. If 68% of all convictions that the government records are illegible for any kind of redress under the system, that it was creating. But then we actually get to see who got those disregards and as of March this year there was only 186 disregards that had been recorded as being granted. So out of 50,000 convictions -even the government identifies 16,000 that are eligible and yet only a 186 have actually been disregarded.
There is continued movement and agitation in England and Wales to expand the pardon and disregard systems to include a wider range of laws under which men were actually convicted and cautioned. Today these questions are active on several fronts. There is the example in Scotland of more expansive legislation that can pardon or disregard men convicted under several different statutes - and we are going to have test cases and we are going to see how it actually works in practice. So that can really offer the opportunity of offering example and precedent for those who are advocating for the law in England and Wales to be expanded.
AS: You can tell from the log books volunteers are concerned about these police actions and are wanting to do something about it.
And they are doing that at a time of great social change and really really loud activist campaigns for gay liberation. And there’s poster pasted into the log book from 1978 - its printed on pink paper and is just written in a typewriter. And the headline is ‘Gays are under attack! Last night a gay man was abused and assaulted in the Marlborough public house on Tollington Place – after further insults -this time from the bar staff- all the gays in the bar were ordered to leave. ‘
And the entry goes on to talk about the police systemically harassing gays in the Earls Court area and across London and in Manchester they have resurrected an old by law to prevent gays from dancing together in our own clubs, it says. And then it turns to all caps and says: ‘WE DEMAND AN END TO POLICE HARRASSMENT OF LESBIANS AND GAY MEN. IF YOU WANT TO JOIN THE FIGHT AGAINST POLICE HARRASSMENT YOU CAN WRITE TO THE LONDON GAY ACTIVIST ALLIANCE’ and we know at the time there were so many protests and different actions against this.
TW: Volunteers often didn’t really have much of a dilemma against whether they wanted to protest or not. It was more about whether Switchboard put its name to anything as an activist organisation - which it later – years down the line decided that it wouldn’t officially do that. That it’s a non political organisation which is open to any one that is able to contact them and that is what is really important. But if anything, so many of the volunteers at Switchboard throughout this period of time especially - were big on the activist scene, big on the protest, big on the marches.
AS: And that is what we are going to talk about in the next episode which is the fight for what was then called gay liberation.
TW: Calls to Switchboard are confidential so to bring the log books to life we’ve changed the caller’s names.
AS: The Log Books is produced by Shivani Dave, Adam Smith and Tash Walker in partnership with Switchboard: the LGBT+ helpline.
TW: If you think other people would like The Log Books please rate and review us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. These ratings and reviews really help others to discover the show. You can send us your feedback and stories to firstname.lastname@example.org
AS: Our music is by Tom Foskett-Barnes and our artwork is by Natalie Doto.
TW: Thanks to Stef Dickers and team at the Bishopsgate Institute.
AS: The folks at Acast,
TW: Gareth Mitchell at Imperial College London,
AS: The staff and volunteers at Switchboard.
TW: And all the contributors who shared their stories.
45 years on Switchboard continues to take phone calls from 10am to 10pm every day. If you are affected by any of the issues in this podcast or need to discuss anything to do with gender identity or sexuality you can call Switchboard on 0300 3300630; email email@example.com; or instant message via switchboard.lgbt where you can also donate money or time to help.