At the start of another year, a familiar headline – Stephen Gough, the Naked Rambler, is back behind bars having been found guilty on 6th January 2014 or breaching his ASBO, and being sentenced to 16 months imprisonment.
Mr Gough had been made the subject, of an Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO) by Southampton Magistrates’ Court last year. We don’t have the exact terms, but presumably something along the lines of ‘don’t walk around with your genitalia or buttocks uncovered’.
It seems here that there was no dispute as to the facts ‘Gough breached [the ASBO] on 15 August when he was seen wearing only socks and boots and carrying a rucksack.‘ Police attended and offered Mr Gough some clothes, but he declined, saying ‘‘No, thank you, it is too hot.‘
So he was arrested and prosecuted. It seems that he did not have a lawyer and, as he refused to wear cloths in Court, the trial proceeded without him. In those circumstances, the verdict was pretty inevitable (absent a bit of jury nullification, which would not be impossible in a case like this) and the jury duly convicted him in a matter of minutes.
Last time, he got 11 months in prison. This time it was 16 months. This is no surprise as Judges normally increase the sentences for repeat offenders.
There are sentencing guidelines for the offence. The sentence of the Judge puts it in the higher category which requires “Serious harassment, alarm or distress [to be] caused or where such harm was intended“.
It seems from the news reports that the police officer stated :””We were opposite the county hospital and a number of people were waiting at the bus stop outside. He would definitely have appeared naked in front of those passersby.” It is noteworthy that the police officer did not say that any of those people were caused any harassment, alarm or distress.
However, the reason that the sentence is so high is that, as the Judge said ‘“I’m afraid there is going to be a revolving door in and out of prison, because you are intent on flouting these orders and there is absolutely no way you are going to comply with them.”‘
And that is the crux of it. Mr Gough isn’t going to back down and neither will the police. In this case, he had only been out of prison for a day or so (possibly less) before being arrested. What’s going to happen? To date, Mr Gough has spent a total of 7 years in prison for asserting his right to be nude in public. If things carry on, then he will end up spending more time in prison than many murderers.
Is that a good use of public money? I maintain my view that maybe we should hold fire on the prosecuting of Mr Gough, at least unless he is genuinely causing people harassment, alarm and distress.