Home Secretary urged to issue new guidelines to police and CPS
Arrest for anti-gay views is unjustified and heavy-handed
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has dropped all charges against homophobic Christian street preacher, Dale McAlpine, shortly after gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell offered to testify in defence of his right to free speech.
Mr McAlpine, 42, was arrested in a street in Workington on 20 April, after condemning homosexuality as a sin. He was charged with using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress, contrary to the Public Order Act 1986.
See details of the case here:
“Although I disagree with Dale McAlpine and support protests against his homophobic views, he should not have been arrested and charged. Criminalisation is a step too far.
“Despite my opposition to his opinions, I defend his right to freedom of expression.
“Soon after I offered to appear as a defence witness and to argue in court for Mr McAlpine’s acquittal, the Crown Prosecution Service dropped the case. The sudden withdrawal of charges may have been mere coincidence but perhaps not.
“Mr McAlpine should have never been prosecuted in the first place. While the arresting officer may have acted with well-meaning intentions, he was over-zealous and interpreted the law in a harsh, authoritarian manner.
“Although clearly homophobic, Mr McAlpine did not express his opinion in a way that was aggressive, threatening or intimidating.
“I am surprised and shocked that the CPS allowed the case to proceed at all. The Public Order Act is meant to protect people from harm. Dale McAlpine’s views are misguided and offensive but I see no evidence that they caused harm to anyone.
“I urge the Home Secretary, Theresa May, to issue new guidelines, making it clear that the police should not arrest people for expressing prejudiced views in a non-threatening and non-aggressive manner. Prosecutions should only proceed in extreme circumstances. The police should concentrate on tackling serious, harmful crimes, such as racist, homophobic and sexist violence.
“Causing offence to others is not a legitimate basis for putting a person on trial.
“Nearly everyone holds opinions that someone else might find offensive. If offending others is accepted as a basis for prosecution, most of the population of the UK would end up in court.
“Freedom of speech means accepting the right of other people to say things that we may find disagreeable and even offensive. Unless people make untrue libellous comments or incite violence, they should not be criminalised for expressing their opinions,” said Mr Tatchell.
David Allison, spokesman for gay rights group OutRage!, said: “These figures show that hate crimes are not something that you can just ignore. It suggests there is something wrong with society that people can’t tolerate each other.
“However, one has to bear in mind that a proportion of the increase is down to a greater willingness of gay people to report these crimes. “Previously, because they did not trust the police to investigate them, they thought there was no point.”
270 days after the April Bomb, and after 1000 days of inaction by New Labour, OutRage! publishes a 10-point reply sent to the Home Secretary, demanding progress.
For the personal attention of:
The Rt. Hon. Jack Straw, MP,
The Rt. Hon. Tony Blair, MP,
10, Downing Street.
The Rt. Hon. Dr. Mowlam, MP,
Minister for the Cabinet Office.
19th December, 1999.
Dear Mr. Straw,
Government Action for Freedom from Discrimination
Thank you for your informative letter dated the 22nd November in response to the OutRage! fax sent on the 21st July to the Prime Minister, (from whom we have had no direct reply).
I shall relate this reply to the numbered questions in our original enquiry.
1. Legislative reforms
What legislative reforms on gay issues is the Government currently prepared to support?
Your letter restates the Government’s commitment to equalising the age of consent and to the repeal of Section 28, (though with no indication of any timescale); and refers to the Home Office recommendations on Sex Offences to be published next year, (also with no indication of timescale for the enactment of legislation).
- Is this the full extent of the proposed reform?
- Can you indicate timescales for Sex Offences legislation?
- What plans does the Government have to end discrimination against homosexuals in asylum, employment, housing, insurance, partnership and pension law and practice?
2. Section 28
By what legislative mechanism and in what timescale does the Government expect to honour its pledge to repeal Section 28?
Your letter does not mention that the repeal is the subject of Section 68 of the Local Government Bill, (which has already received its second reading).
- Given the delays and constitutional problems which have beset the equalisation of the age of consent, why has the Government included the repeal of §28 in a Bill introduced in the Lords, (in the knowledge that this not only gives the Lords a veto but also precludes application of the Parliament Act to ensure that the will of the Commons prevails)?
- If, as seems quite likely, the Lords successfully oppose the repeal of §28, does the Government intend to reintroduce a repeal Bill in the Commons in 2001, (with the consequence that, if again opposed in the Lords, repeal of §28 could not then occur until 2002)?
- Can you and the Prime Minister give your firm assurance that §28 will be repealed no later than 2002?
3. Sex Education
What is the Government’s intention with regard to placing a legal obligation on schools to provide honest, nonjudgemental information about gay issues (including but not limited to gay sexuality and gay ‘safer sex’), rather than leaving these to the arbitrary whim of individual schools?
We fully agree with your assertion that sex education should be taught not in isolation, but integrated where relevant with the rest of the curriculum, (including PSHE, English, and History).
We will welcome receipt of the promised DfEE guidance document on bullying, (still awaited), and will study it with interest.
We are greatly disappointed, however, that the new PSHE guidelines, while obviously well-intentioned, surely pave the way to hell by being nonstatutory.
- We have a copy of the May-July document QCA/99/405, (Part 2 of which is a draft, nonstatutory framework for PSHE, which, despite repeated enumerations of acceptable diversity, avoids any mention of sexuality: e.g. for Key Stages 3 & 4, “national, regional, religious and ethnic identities within the UK and the need for mutual respect and understanding”). We should be grateful to receive a copy of the definitive document which –we assume from your letter– now exists.
- Is there any valid reason that it would not be possible to make these “guidelines” compulsory?
- Do you agree that making the “guidelines” compulsory would protect the interests of vulnerable lesbian and gay pupils, so that their needs would not be left to the discretion of individual schools and teachers?
4. Antigay violence
Why is the Government promoting antigay violence by avoiding equal action against it?
We note with interest your statement that courts can (optionally) pass higher sentences on perpetrators of homophobic attacks.
- Do you have any statistics which demonstrate the frequency with which the courts pass such higher sentences in practice?
- What research has the Home Office done on the issue of homophobic bias in the Criminal Justice System?
- Does the Government acknowledge that the problem of institutional homophobia is no different from that of institutional racism?
- Is the Government taking the same action to eradicate institutional homophobia from the court, prison and probation services as you mention for the police service?
5. Joined-up Government
Why is there no effective coordination between Government Departments at Ministerial level?
The opening paragraph of your letter states that we requested a coordinated Whitehall response. In fact we went further, lamenting that there had been no evidence of any coordination of policy between Government Departments on the removal of anti-L/G/B/T discrimination, and urging the appointment of a capable individual with sufficient “clout” to be effective. – This point was urged emphatically: yet your reply does not even allude to it.
- Do you and the Prime Minister agree that disparate policy on L/G/B/T issues between Government Departments is confusing for all?
- How do you propose to achieve effective coordination, if not as we suggested?
6. Delivering sensible, pragmatic, unembarrassed sex education
Can you confirm that Clare Short’s sound advice will be taken up by the Home Office and the DfEE, and be incorporated in future legislation?
Your mention of PSHE focuses on bullying, but carefully avoids discussing the content of sex education lessons.
- Will gay and lesbian sex be included on a par with heterosexual sex, and addressed in an honest, factual, nonjudgemental manner? This should include not only the biological mechanics, but also recognition of relationships, friendships, and family groupings. – I assume you are aware of the October ruling by the Law Lords (Fitzpatrick versus Sterling Housing Association) that gay relationships do constitute a family relationship.
- When will the Government act to ensure that HIV prevention in schools includes, as a mandatory requirement, information on safer sex for lesbian and gay pupils?
7. Representative Consultation
Could we please have your agreement that a broad cross-section of the L/G/B/T community will in future be included in all Government consultations on issues relating to sexuality and sexual equality?
We do not dispute your statement that the Home Office Sexual Offences Review currently in progress is “open and inclusive”. Our concern is generic, not confined to this one issue.
- Will you give your firm commitment that all future legislation affecting L/G/B/T issues will involve representative consultation with the L/G/B/T community at all stages, and not exclusive meetings with one privileged group to the exclusion of others?
8. Police Homophobia
Will you now bring forward legally obligatory regulations to root out homophobia in the police and other services, with the same vigour that racism is now to be eradicated?
We welcome your assurance of the Government’s desire to eradicate homophobia within the police, and the review of the selection process to remove discriminatory practices. We were particularly interested to learn of the Police (Conduct) Regulations 1999.
- Please could you send us a copy of the Police (Conduct) Regulations 1999?
- With regard to the equal opportunities policies which you state are now being pursued by the police, and given the fiasco of the European Court of Human Rights ruling in February 1998 that South West Trains were under no legal obligation to enforce their own policy of nondiscrimination: what guarantee is there that these policies will be implemented and enforceable?
9. West End Central / Ian Farmer / Bomb warning
No reassurance was obtained on specific issues regarding the police. … Your explanation on these three points would be appreciated.
Your letter omitted any reference to these items.
- What progress (if any) has been made in investigating the allegations of harassment and intimidation of lesbian and gay officers at Soho’s West End Central police station; and the arrest of Ian Farmer at London Pride (July 1998) and the subsequent mishandling of his complaint?
- Can you give your assurance that, in the event of any future threat (whether terrorist or other) to L/G/B/T citizens, appropriate public warnings will be given to the whole L/G/B/T community through the national media?
10. Action, not Words — Designated Minister for Gay Issues
We would urge you as a priority to address this disastrous deficiency by assigning responsibility to a competent, dynamic and committed individual, who is empowered to ‘kick ass’ and get things moving.
Your letter omitted any reference to this proposal: and our concern remains undiminished.
- If the electorate in New Zealand and Germany can vote transexual MP’s and mayors into office, the British Public can accept “out” gay ministers in the Cabinet, and the Government’s stated intention to abolish discrimination is genuine, what is the obstacle to appointing a coordinator to ensure that Government Departments progress consistently and uniformly towards this goal?
We should be most grateful to receive your point-by-point response to each specific question raised in this letter.
Thanking you in advance, I remain
Annotated reply from Jack Straw to OutRage!’s letter to the Prime Minister of 21st July on Government Action following the Soho Bomb.
Queen Anne’s Gate,
London SW1H 9AT.
Our Ref: SEN/99 35/70/34
22nd November, 1999.
Thank you for your letter of 21 July to the Prime Minister which raises a number of issues affecting the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. I am sorry you have had to wait so long for a reply, but you have asked for a co-ordinated Whitehall response, and that, of course takes time.
This is the fleeting sole reference to point 5: “Why is there no effective coordination between Government Departments at Ministerial level?”. This reply has taken four months: and there is not even the merest hint of any future coordination, let alone sustained.
Let me start by outlining some of the positive action this Government has taken in this area since coming to power in 1997. We are already taking action to overturn discriminatory law. We are upholding a long-standing commitment to give Parliament a free vote on lowering the homosexual age of consent, and will reintroduce age of consent legislation in the coming session to ensure that Parliament is able to take a conclusive view on this issue. This will be a free vote so that members of parliament can vote according to their conscience, but I am in no doubt as to the outcome.
Second, we are undertaking a review of sexual offences and penalties. The terms of reference of the review make it explicit that our aim is to recommend changes which make the sex offences laws coherent, fair and non-discriminatory in accordance with the ECHR and Human Rights Act; to provide protection from abuse and exploitation, especially to children and other vulnerable people; and to enable abusers to be appropriately punished.
Many other Governments are actively involved in the review, and are free to comment on potential areas of impact. You say Government does not consult on proposed legislation widely in the gay and lesbian community. This review is open and inclusive. Organisations representing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual interests have been invited to take part in the consultation process. Some are represented on the Steering Group, others have taken part in the conferences and seminars which have been organised, or sent submissions in evidence. Your own organisation has taken the opportunity to make an active contribution to the review by sending in a submission.
The full recommendations of the review will be published next year, and we will welcome any further contributions from Outrage! on the impact of the proposed changes in the law might make to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual community.
This is a reference to point 7: “Could we please have your agreement that a broad cross-section of the L/G/B/T community will in future be included in all Government consultations on issues relating to sexuality and sexual equality?”. However, the reply refers only to the Home Office Review of Sex Offences, and makes no mention of consultation on any other draft or proposed legislation.
Third, the Government recognises that Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988, which prohibits local authorities from promoting homosexuality by teaching or publishing material, has been widely perceived as discriminatory and takes the view that it serves no useful purpose. We have received many representations about the possibility of including the repeal in the draft Local Government (Organisation and Standards) Bill. We recognise the force of those arguments and will take them into account as we consider what changes to make to the draft Bill. However, we are also committed to a substantial legislative programme, and there are limits to the volume of legislation with which Parliament can deal at any one time.
Nevertheless, please rest assured that we committed to repealing Section 28 as soon as parliamentary time permits.
This is a partial response to point 2: “By what legislative mechanism and in what timescale does the Government expect to honour its pledge to repeal Section 28?”. Note the caveat in the reply: “as soon as parliamentary time permits”.
The opening paragraphs constitute a reply to point 1: “What legislative reforms on gay issues is the Government currently prepared to support?”. In summary, this appears to be:
Turning now to violence motivated by homophobia, we are determined to deal with the problems of homophobic crime, and we have been working with the Association of Chief Police Officers to develop guidelines for police forces in dealing with incidents involving the lesbian and gay community in order to ensure that they are policed in a fair and equitable way.
The London nail bombings were truly horrific, and I have made public my views on this terrible outrage. The law must protect everyone in society from violence, whatever the motivation for that violence. The criminal law already contains a wide range of powers to deal with violent behaviour and harassment. In addition, the perpetrator of any attack that results in death can be charged with murder or manslaughter, both of which carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
When passing sentence for a violent offence, the court must take into account all the circumstances of the offence before passing sentence. This includes any aggravating factors such as the motivation of the perpetrator in committing it. In other words, the court can pass a higher sentence against a defendant where the attack is motivated by the sexual orientation of the victim, whether real or perceived.
This is a partial response to point 4: “Why is the Government promoting antigay violence by avoiding equal action against it?”. We welcome the above concept of “guidelines for police forces” for dealing with homophobic incidents: but would like some assurance that they will be actively implemented by all police forces.
Numerous cases in recent years demonstrate that existing sentencing practice, while it may allow tougher sentencing in homophobic incidents, is not applied consistently and does not send the right message to actual and would-be thugs.
Sex education is rarely taught in isolation, and is normally part of a broader programme of Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE). The Government is committed to raising the status and profile of PSHE. A report from the Advisory Group on PSHE was published in May of this year, and the recommendations from the report were fed into the review of the National Curriculum. The Education Secretary, David Blunkett, has now announced his final decisions on the National Curriculum and these include a non-statutory framework for PSHE in both primary and secondary schools. The framework for secondary school pupils includes understanding the effects of stereotyping, prejudice, bullying and discrimination arising from whatever source; and how to challenge them assertively. It also includes understanding some of the cultural norms in society including the range of lifestyles and relationships.
Following consultation, the DfEE has recently issued its guidance in pupil attendance, behaviour, exclusion and reintegration. In that guidance, the Department restates its position about the unacceptability of all forms of bullying, including on the grounds of sexual orientation. I understand that DfEE are arranging to send you a copy of that guidance now that it has been published.
This is a partial response to point 3: “What is the Government’s intention with regard to placing a legal obligation on schools to provide honest, nonjudgemental information about gay issues (including but not limited to gay sexuality and gay ‘safer sex’), rather than leaving these to the arbitrary whim of individual schools?”.
Finally, you raise the issue of homophobia in the police. The Police service as a visible and influential public service relies on the support of and active participation of the community. I believe that fair and non-discriminatory treatment of all staff and members of the public is vital if the service is to retain the trust and confidence of the public in its professionalism and integrity. The police service, supported by the Government, is actively pursuing equal opportunity policies within the service and seeks to encourage applications from the service from all under represented groups.
The Home Office is also reviewing the whole selection process with a view to removing all discriminatory practices from the selection procedures.
We have introduced new regulations through The Police (Conduct) Regulations 1999, which tightened up procedures for dealing with police misconduct and introduced a new code of conduct. The code stipulates among other matters that officers should treat members of the public and colleagues with courtesy and respect, avoiding abusive or deriding attitudes or behaviour. In particular, officers must avoid all forms of harassment, victimisation or unreasonable discrimination. This provision applies to all forms of unreasonable discrimination, including on the grounds of sexual orientation.
There is a range of sanctions which are available to deal with breaches of the code, including dismissal or the requirement to resign. Decisions about which sanction to apply will depend upon the merits of the case.
This is a partial response to point 8: “Will you now bring forward legally obligatory regulations to root out homophobia in the police and other services, with the same vigour that racism is now to be eradicated?”. OutRage! will be seeking details of this “code of conduct”, including to what extent it may be practicably enforceable. — Cf. the European Court of Human Rights ruling in February 1998 that the South West Trains were under no legal obligation to enforce their own policy of nondiscrimination.
The same week as this letter arrived we also received reports of a case where one or more maverick police officers are believed to have taken unofficial action against a minor offender which has resulted in his eviction, assault, and a break-in where his partner was attacked, bound, robbed, and threatened with murder.
No response was included to point 9, which requested information about three specific instances of police homophobia:
Annotated reply from the Home Office to OutRage!’s letter to the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, following the bombing of the ‘Admiral Duncan’ pub.
Queen Anne’s Gate,
London SW1H 9AT.
23rd June, 1999.
Thank you for your letter of 3 May following the Soho bombing. I apologise for the delay in sending this reply and thank you for your patience.
As you know the Government has good relations with representatives from the gay and lesbian community.
This is presumably intended as a reply to point 4, demanding broader consultation with the L/G/B/T community, not just with Stonewall to the exclusion of all other organisations and interest groups.
With regard to your specific points:
Dealing with violence and harassment
First, let me say that the Government wants to stop attacks and harassment upon lesbians and gay men. The Government believes that everyone is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of their lives without fear of harassment or violent crime. The Government considers such behaviour to be totally unacceptable whether the motivation for the attack is because of the victim’s perceived sexual orientation or for any other reason.
The Government’s view is that the law must be able to offer everyone in society the best possible protection from violence, whatever the motivation of the aggressor. There are many groups in society, which for one reason or another are particularly victimised and it is important that the law protects them all.
I have set out the relevant law below. However, the way in which the law is implemented is also important. When considering a custodial sentence, judges are already required to take into account all available information about the circumstances of the offence, including any aggravating factors, which can include the motivation of the perpetrator in committing the offence.
While the Government does not accept the need for specific legislative measures to deal with homophobic attacks, and is determined to deal with the problem of homophobic crime. [sic]
This is a reply to point 1, demanding tougher sentences for violence and harassment against lesbians and gay men, in precisely the same way that Tony Blair proposed (after the Soho bomb) for racially motivated attacks. OutRage! cannot see any difference between hatred fuelled by racial prejudice and hatred fuelled by prejudice based on differing sexuality.
For example we have been working with the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) to develop guidelines for police forces in dealing with incidents involving the lesbian and gay community and in order to ensure that they are policed in a fair and equitable manner. The guidelines include a definition of what should be regarded as a homophobic incident: “any incident which appears either to the victim or to any other person including the reporting or investigating officer to be motivated by homophobia”.
Increasingly, the police are working with the gay and lesbian community to deal with this problem – not only on a local, individual basis but also through liaison with the National Advisory Group on Policing the Lesbian and Gay Communities. The group includes lesbians and gay men who have experience of working with the police, together with police officers who work in this area. The National Advisory Group has worked with ACPO in developing the guidelines mentioned above.
The Government considers that there are particular problems associated with racial violence and harassment that justify specific legislation. Racially motivated crime harms not only the victim but the wider community as well, and has implications for public order more generally. The trust and understanding built up between communities can be eroded by the climate of fear and anxiety that follows such incidents. This is why the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 introduced new racially aggravated offences. The aim is to protect everyone from the consequences of racial crime and we would not wish to dilute the message that this Act sends to the victims of racial violence and harassment.
The criminal law already contains a wide range of powers to deal with violent behaviour or harassment. The main non-fatal violent offences include:
Where an attack results in death the offender may be charged with murder, for which the only sentence is life imprisonment, or with manslaughter where the maximum penalty is also life imprisonment. There is also a range of powers under the Public Order Act 1986 and the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 to deal with non-violent offences.
Sex education is rarely taught in isolation, but is normally part of broader programmes of Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE). In this way there is an opportunity for teachers to address children’s spiritual, moral and cultural development to complement what they are learning about sex and relationships, and thereby better prepare them for adult life. PSHE can provide the vital building blocks from which young people can develop the self-respect and emotional well-being to help form and maintain worthwhile and fulfilling relationships. It promotes respect for the diversity of and differences between people. The Government is committed to raising the profile and status of PSHE and set up a National Advisory Group to develop a coherent framework, building on good practice and spreading it to all schools. The recommendations from the Advisory Group were fed into the review of the National Curriculum as carried out by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. The Advisory Group’s report is due to be published shortly.
This relates to the final part of point 3, on the provision of balanced sex education for all age groups.
The Pink Paper carried a report on 25-June-1999, (page 7), stating that “Officials in Brazil’s Department of Health are advising government ministers that sex education should start as young as four, to prevent the spread of HIV later in life … [and] unwanted pregnancies”, and that the proposal was overwhelmingly endorsed by a conference of teachers and education officials.
An item on BBC Ceefax, (28-June-1999, page 120), quoted U.K. Government Minister Clare Short as advising the United Nations in the context of AIDS prevention that we should start telling children what they need to know. — However, that message is not reflected by the current reply from the Home Office.
The Secretary of State for Education, David Blunkett, recently announced his proposals for the review of the National Curriculwm which include a non-statutory framework for PSHE in both primary and secondary schools. In addition to PSHE, the Secretary of State’s proposals also include a new foundation subject for citizenship in secondary schools. A key element of the knowledge and understanding young people are expected to gain through citizenship education is the diversity of national, regional, religious and ethnic identities within the United Kingdom and the need for mutual respect and understanding. Provision for citizenship and PSHE will complement one another and help pupils to make sense of the world in which they live.
This relates to the first two parts of point 3, on promoting integration and eradicating bullying. Notably, the citizenship education makes no explicit mention of diversity of sexuality.
The effect that bullying can have both on the emotional well-being and educational achievement of children cannot be underestimated. We are concerned that all schools should treat the issue of bullying seriously and take steps to combat it promptly and firmly whenever and wherever it occurs. This is reflected in new legislation. The School Standards and Framework Act 1998 includes a section requiring headteachers, from September at the latest, to determine measures which encourage good behaviour and respect for others by pupils, and, in particular, to prevent all forms of bullying among pupils.
A school’s headteacher is already responsible for securing discipline on a day-to-day basis subject to any general principles laid down in writing by the school governors. Also, a headteacher has a duty to determine measures that encourage good behaviour and respect for others on the part of pupils.
When parents find that their child is being bullied, they should not hesitate to complain. Leaflets are available from the Department for Education and Employment.
There is no mention of point 2, viz. repeal of Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act.
Complaint of Malicious arrest by lan Farmer: The procedures for dealing with complaints against the police are laid down under Part IV of the Police Act 1996. The Act makes the police and the Police Complaints Authority responsible for the investigation of complaints and there is no authority for Ministers to intervene in the process.
The Government are concerned to build public confidence in the police complaints system. The Home Affairs Select Committee made some important recommendations in its report last year on the police disciplinary and complaints procedures to increase the independence and openness of the process.
We have accepted the Select Committee’s recommendation to conduct detailed feasibility studies into arrangements for a fully independent complaints investigation process. This work will be completed by April 2000. We will consider in the light of that research whether legislation should be brought forward to establish a new independent complaints investigation body.
This relates to point 5(2). Sorry, Ian, the Home Secretary cannot help you: or not until any legislation which may be recommended next year has worked its way through the parliamentary process.
Police action in light of the nail bombings: All Metropolitan Police divisions throughout London were tasked with identifying vulnerable communities and focusing police activity, including high visibility policing to reassure and protect potentially vulnerable communities. As a consequence, Gay and Lesbian groups were identified as potentially vulnerable and Stonewall, Galop and other Gay and Lesbian businesses were contacted. This was followed by a letter from the police which was issued on 27 April and the Pink Paper led with a warning in its edition dated 30 April and circulated on 29 April. All the premises in Wardour Street and Old Compton Street, including the Admiral Duncan pub, were visited by two Crime Prevention Officers on 28 April.
The Metropolitan Police responded very positively to the threat to the safety of all people in London, talking to a wide range of community organisations and many businesses in a major crime prevention effort. That effort has rightly won widespread praise. The police in their turn have thanked the public for their support and vigilance, and have emphasised the importance of partnership.
This refers to point 5(3): but without even alluding to the OutRage! suggestion of a high-profile public announcement in the national media.
The events of recent weeks have shown that when communities and the police work together towards one aim success can be achieved. The new Task Group which has been established by the police to provide reassurance to all members of the public affected by hate in all its forms by seeking to prevent, deter and disrupt the criminal activities of violent extremists, will continue with this alliance.
Point 5(1) on homophobia within the police force is not addressed by this reply.
I hope this is helpful. Once again apologies for the delay in sending you this reply.
The Rt. Hon. Jack Straw, MP,
14th May, 1999.
I am writing on behalf of the lesbian and gay human rights group OutRage! to call for a public inquiry into the police failure to warn the lesbian and gay population that Old Compton Street and other gay districts were potential bomb targets.
Some gay businesses in Old Compton Street, and one gay organisation (Stonewall), were alerted. But there was no general warning to the wider lesbian and gay population. They had a right to know that their community was at risk, and the police were wrong to not make them aware of that danger.
A public inquiry is needed to ensure that the policing mistakes in the days leading up to the Soho bomb are identified, and that remedial action is taken to ensure they are not repeated in the future.
The police response after the Soho bombing was, in our view, praiseworthy. It does, however, need to recognised that their failure to forewarn the homosexual public that gay venues could be attacked was a serious and tragic misjudgement. This failure is a legitimate and necessary subject for a public enquiry.
Soon after the Brixton bomb, and most definitely following the Brick Lane explosion, officers suspected that right-wing extremists were behind the blast — and they admitted publicly this likely far-right connection.
From past experience, the police were aware that these neo-Nazi groups do not confine their hatred and violence to racial minorities. As well as being racist and anti-Semitic, they are also notoriously homophobic. It was obvious to anyone with even a passing acquaintance with the far right that the gay community was a potential bomb target. Nevertheless, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Condon, and other senior officers, continued to publicly promote –without any proof– a solely-racist motive for the bombings.
In addition to the easily-arrived-at deduction that the bomber was likely to be homophobic as well as racist, there is cast-iron proof that, about a week before the Soho bomb exploded, officers on the case suspected that Old Compton Street might be a target. We know this because police were dispatched to alert gay businesses in Old Compton Street from Monday, 26th April, which suggests that the decision to warn these businesses was probably taken the Friday before or earlier.
There is further concrete evidence that the police feared the lesbian and gay community could be targeted. The gay rights group, Stonewall, was posted a police warning dated Tuesday, 27th April, but this letter did not arrive until Friday, 30th April, (the day of the bombing). Since the police had serious concerns about the lesbian and gay community being attacked, why was this warning not phoned, faxed or couriered to Stonewall, and to other gay rights organisations? Who made the decision to send the warning by second class post? These questions require answers.
It was also a grave mistake for the police not use their own community consultation structures to alert the most obvious and important gay groups: those that are involved in police liaison, through the London Lesbian & Gay Policing Initiative (LLGPI). None of these organisations received any warning about the bomb danger.
For nearly two years, the LLPGI has been urging the police to set up a data base of lesbian and gay groups in London, to ensure swift communication with the homosexual community in the event of an emergency, such as the recent bombing campaign. This recommendation was also made by OutRage! six years ago, after the delayed police warning to the gay community when serial killer, Colin Ireland, was on the rampage.
During the recent bombings, the failure of the police to establish this data base meant that, even if they had decided to alert all lesbian and gay groups that gay venues might be targeted, officers had no way of disseminating their fears to these groups.
The most serious police misjudgement was, by far, the decision to warn some gay bars, but not the wider gay public. This lulled many lesbians and gay men into a false sense of security. Because the police did not issue a public alert about the possibility of gay venues being bombed, most homosexuals did not take the threat seriously. They heard Sir Paul Condon suggesting an exclusively racist motive for the bombings, and assumed that the gay community was not at risk.
As soon as his officers realised tbat the lesbian and gay community was a potential target –which was Tuesday, 27th April at the latest and probably several days earlier– the Metropolitan Police Commissioner should have gone on national television to advise the homosexual population that gay areas and venues were at risk. He should have also announced publicly that Old Compton Street and other gay districts were under heavy police surveillance. This might have deterred the bomber. On hearing of the police surveillance of gay districts, he may have concluded there was a risk of detection and abandoned his plans. London and the gay community could, perhaps, have been spared the carnage of Friday, 30th April.
I hope you will agree that police decison-making in the run-up to the Soho bomb blast was flawed, and that in the interests of avoiding any repetition of those errors of judgement there needs to be a full and independent public enquiry.
PETER TATCHELL of OutRage! says the police failure to warn the lesbian and gay public about the bomb threat was “complacent and irresponsible”.
While the police deserve mostly praise for their liaison with the lesbian and gay community since the Soho bombing, their failure to forewarn the homosexual public that gay venues could be attacked was a grave error of judgement.
A week before the bomb, police suspected that Old Compton Street might be a target. Accordingly, officers alerted some gay businesses and organisations.
This alert was, unfortunately, badly executed. The gay rights group Stonewall was posted a police warning dated 27th April: but this letter did not arrive until 30th April (the day of the bombing). Since the police had serious concerns about the gay community being attacked, why was this warning not phoned or faxed to Stonewall, and to other key gay rights organisations? Who made the decision to send the warning by second-class post?
It was also a mistake for the police not use their own community consultation structures to alert the most obvious and important gay groups: those that are involved in police liaision, through the London Lesbian & Gay Policing Initiative (LLGPI). None of these organisations received any warning.
For nearly two years, the LLPGI has been urging the police to set up a database of lesbian and gay groups in London, to ensure swift communication with the homosexual community in the event of an emergency, such as the recent bombing campaign. This recommendation was also made by OutRage! six years ago, after the delayed police warning to the gay community when serial killer, Colin Ireland, was on the rampage.
During the recent bombings, the failure of the police to establish this database meant that they had no mechanism to alert all lesbian and gay groups once officers suspected that gay venues might be targeted.
The most serious police misjudgement was, by far, the decision to warn some gay bars, but not the wider gay public. This lulled many lesbians and gay men into a false sense of security. Because the police did not issue a public alert about the possibility of gay venues being bombed, most homosexuals did not take the threat seriously. They heard Sir Paul Condon and Jack Straw suggesting an exclusively racist motive for the bombings, and assumed that the gay community was not at risk.
The Metropolitan Police Commissioner should have gone on national television on 27th April to advise the gay community that it was a potential target, and announced publicly that Old Compton Street and other gay districts were under heavy police surveillance. This might have deterred the bomber. On hearing of the police surveillance of gay districts, he may have concluded there was a risk of detection and abandoned his plans. London and the gay community could, perhaps, have been spared the carnage of Friday, 30th April.
Despite driving rain earlier in the afternoon, 1000 people of all races and sexualities thronged Old Compton Street at 6:30 on Friday, 7th May, for the Vigil commemorating the victims of the bomb one week earlier, and the victims of the two previous bombings in Brixton and Brick Lane.
As well as an act of remembrance, the Vigil was an affirmation of our community’s defiance of homophobia, queer-bashing, and neonazi terrorism.
Gay pop singer Tom Robinson opened with a soulful rendition of “Lean on Me”. Then, at 6:37 p.m., the exact time that the bomb exploded on 30th April, there was a minute’s silence in remembrance.
Organised by OutRage! –and bringing together representatives of the Black, Asian, and Gay communities hit by the bomber– the Vigil was compered by Peter Tatchell, saying: “Our message tonight is: ‘United we stand. Bombs will not divide us, nor drive us underground'”.
There were shouts of agreement and applause when, referring to the House of Lords veto of an equal Age of Consent on 13th April, which was spearheaded by the Conservative peeress Baroness Young of Farnworth, Tatchell stated: “Baroness Young fuelled the hate; the bomber lit the fuse.”
Speakers representing the different communities shattered by April’s three bombings underlined the close connexion between racism and homophobia, and deplored the procrastination of our politicians in equalising the Age of Consent, repealing Section 28, eradicating bullying in schools, (see Stonewall or THT), and the Government’s failure to crack down on hate crimes.
Ken Livingstone, MP –the former leader of the Greater London Council– urged the Government to respond to the bombing by repealing Section 28 which, he said, was inhibiting the ability of teachers to challenge homophobic prejudice and bullying in schools. Livingstone said this failure to tackle antigay attitudes gave free reign to the bigotry that inspired the bomber and his neonazi sympathisers.
Black speakers –Teresa Bennett of the Anti-Nazi League, Darryl Telles of the National Assembly against Racism, and Sukwant Dhaliwal of Southall Black Sisters (SBS)– urged a united front to challenge racism and homophobia and to defend the Black, Asian, and Gay communities against right-wing extremist violence. Tess Joseph of the Jewish Gay and Lesbian Group read a statement from the Chief Rabbi, Prof. Jonathan Sacks, which said: “Once again human beings are being murdered because of who and what they are. These bombings are not just attacks on specific communities: they are attacks on our humanity and diversity. They remind us of the hatred that still survives towards minorities … We stand with the people of Brixton, Brick Lane, and Soho, ready to fight for all people to live without fear, knowing that a society that cannot live with difference cannot live at all.”
A number of speakers underlined the need for immediate Government action by referring to their own personal experiences. — Sue Sanders of School’s Out, (the campaign against homophobia in schools), told how, as an out lesbian, she had had to give up teaching; and Tom Robinson spoke of the homophobia he experienced at school, which at the time had led him to contemplate suicide. Tom led the crowd in singing his gay anthem, “Glad to be Gay”, with a new verse written in response to the Soho bomb.
The Rt. Hon. Jack Straw, MP,
3rd May, 1999.
Dear Mr. Straw,
Government Action following Friday’s Soho bombing
Given your hospital visits to those injured by the bomb, it is plain that your weekend, like that of so many of us, has been disrupted by the blast, (albeit not in the devasting way that the survivors, their families, and those of the deceased will be affected for years to come).
I note that you have been reported this weekend as saying “there has, happily, been a huge change in the attitudes of society as a whole towards gay people. There is, of course, much more progress needed”: and I would agree with this on both counts.
From the extracts which I have seen reported, it would appear that the remainder of your comments have been limited to bringing the perpetrator(s) to justice, and on the sterling work of the police.
On behalf of OutRage! I am writing to ask you to consider and reply to the following additional points.
- To introduce an amendment to the 1998 Crime & Disorder Act, to impose tougher sentences for violence and harassment against lesbians and gay men, (in accordance with the spirit of the amendment tabled on 8th May last year by Richard Allan, MP).
- To repeal Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act, which, despite various Government pronouncements, in practice still exercises a severely inhibitory effect upon schools and other organisations which work with young people.
- In accordance with Tony Blair’s 1997 election slogan “Education! Education! Education!”, to ensure that both primary and secondary schools do their utmost to:
- promote integration (of all segments of society) and eliminate intolerance;
- eradicate racism, homophobia, and other forms of bullying;
- introduce balanced sex education, addressing at all levels of the curriculum and in all relevant subjects appropriate awareness of acceptable and unacceptable variations of behaviour within personal relationships, for the practical, long-term benefit of all pupils, whatever their sexuality.
- In the context of the reported statement that you “value the close working relationship which I have with Stonewall and the gay community”: with which L/G/B/T (lesbian, gay, bisexual & transgender) organisations do you have any relationship, apart from Stonewall? Although I have personally supported Stonewall financially for a number of years -and still do- it is only fair to state that they neither consult nor are accountable either to their own supporters, nor to the rest of the L/G/B/T community. As such their point of view is by no means representative. Moreover, despite their wealth (relative to other community bodies), their still limited resources do not enable them to address all the issues which they might like to: to say nothing of other issues which they prefer to ignore. — Any consultation of significance must be within a larger, democratic, representative and accountable forum: for example, through the Equality Alliance, (which has performed a useful coordinating and information-sharing rôle this weekend). You will be aware that OutRage! is most desirous to have serious input into the legislative process: as, indeed, are other groups.
- On the subject of the police, it is indeed right and proper that the good work which they do should be acknowledged and appropriately rewarded. However, as the MacPherson Report has demonstrated (in the different but very closely related area of racism), there are regrettably still shortcomings. In the context of homophobia, I mention the following selection. –
- The May issue of “Gay Times” carries a report, pp. 14 + 48, on homophobia within the police force: at a number of stations, but, in particular, at Soho’s West End Central. Indeed, after Saturday’s protest rally, a fellow marcher stated that a friend of his, a lesbian police officer there, was very distressed about the working environment. — There is little point in encouraging the police to hunt for bomb-planting terrorists whilst they allow hotbeds of homophobia and racism to flourish within their midst.
- At last year’s Gay Pride March, a member of the Equality Alliance, Ian Farmer, was maliciously arrested. He subsequently complained: only to discover earlier this year that his complaint had been misrecorded. The mishandling of this case reflects a number of the issues which were recognised in the Stephen Lawrence scandal.
- Although the police visited and warned selected gay businesses of the possible danger of a bomb, (not, I am informed, with due diligence), the warning was by no means high-profile. Since they had suspicions, tragically confirmed, that bombs might be directed at other, nonethnic, minority groups, it would surely have been appropriate to announce this to the general public through the national media. That this was neglected reminds me of the “Don’t die of ignorance” advertisements warning the nation of the danger of icebergs. This was another warning that dare not speak its name in public. — Why are the British as a nation so shamefully coy? It is truly disastrous: as has tragically been proved on both occasions.
We also hereby invite you to attend a brief commemorative Vigil of Remembrance at 6:30 p.m., Friday, 7th May, Old Compton Street, outside the Admiral Duncan.
OutRage! is calling on the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, to respond to the Soho bombing by bringing in new laws to crack down on homophobic hate crimes.
“We want the Crime & Disorder Act 1998 amended to impose tougher sentences for violence against lesbians and gay men. Such legislation would be a permanent, positive memorial to those who were injured and killed in the Soho bomb blast”, said Peter Tatchell.
“A third of lesbians and gay men have been beaten up by queer-bashers because of their homosexuality.
“Last year, Labour vetoed an amendment to the Crime & Disorder Bill that would have extended the Bill’s tough new penalties for race hate crimes to similar prejudice-motivated attacks on lesbians and gays”.
The amendment last May was sponsored by MPs Richard Allan and Dr. Evan Harris.
“The Government’s refusal to support this amendment signalled that it was soft on antigay crime. We hope Jack Straw will, in the aftermath of the Soho atrocity, initiate new legislation against ALL forms of homophobic violence”, said Tatchell.
JACK STRAW CONDEMNED OVER “DIVIDE AND RULE” TACTICS
The Home Secretary, Jack Straw, has been condemned by OutRage! for having a “secret and exclusive” meeting on the Soho bombing with Stonewall. All other lesbian and gay community organisations were excluded from yesterday’s meeting (Saturday, 1st May).
“The Home Secretary is trying to divide and split the gay community at a time when we should be uniting to fight the threat posed by neo-Nazi terrorism”, said John Hunt of OutRage!. “His policy of secret consultations with one favoured group means that a representative cross-section of lesbian and gay opinion is not being heard. Stonewall has no mandate to speak on behalf of the whole gay community.”
POLICE CRITICISED FOR FAILURE TO WARN THE GAY PUBLIC
Sir Paul Condon has been accused of “complacency” over his failure to issue a public warning to the gay community that it could be hit by the bombers.
“The police warned some gay organisations and businesses, but they failed to warn the wider gay public. Before the Soho bombing, most gay people had no idea that gay bars were potential targets. If Sir Paul Condon had gone on national television to alert the gay community and announce that places like Old Compton Street were under police surveillance, the bombers may have feared detection and abandoned their plans”, said Hunt. “The limited police warning whispered to a few bar owners is reminiscent of icebergs, and the ‘Don’t die of ignorance’ advertisements. Another warning which dare not speak its name in public.”