Naked Rambler, Stephen Gough, back in jail

Naked Rambler, Stephen Gough, back in jail

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Background and facts

Stephen Gough has obtained a fair amount of notoriety (as well as a fair few convictions) over the years. He has even got his own wikipedia page. He is a former marine who is a ‘nudity activist’. Since 2003 he has spent a total of six years in prison for charges arising out of his naturism, which he combines with a passion for rambling, hence his moniker.

He was made the subject of an Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO) by Southampton Magistrates’ Court on 28th February 2013. We don’t have the exact terms, but it seems to have included a term that he must cover his buttocks and genitalia (presumably in public).

Just after it was made, he walked out of the Magistrates Court still naked. The police in attendance offered him clothes, which he declined. Whereupon he was arrested and charged with breaching the order.

The case ended up in the Portsmouth Crown Court. Mr Gough was not allowed into Court naked and so the trial proceeded without him. Unsurprisingly, he was convicted fairly swiftly by the jury.

The Judge sentenced him on 19th June 2013 to 11 months in prison. As he has been on remand since being arrested, he will be released in early August.

Was the sentence right?

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“.

I doubt that that was the case. It is not clear who would have been present, but there is nothing to suggest any harassment, alarm or distress was actually caused. In all probability it caused amusement, or weary sighs, from the people nearby.

The reason that the sentence would have been as high as it was is probably because of the repeated history of Mr Gough wandering around naked and the fact that he has shown no contrition. Given that an ASBO doesn’t work, and clearly won’t work, the Judge probably felt that she had no choice but to pass a prison sentence.

Will there be an appeal? Probably. It’s unlikely to succeed. A non-custodial sentence would not have been complied with and I imagine that the Court of Appeal will not interfere with the length of the sentence imposed.

Comment

It may be that I am unduly phlegmatic, but I really question whether there is any point in rolling out the machinery of the state to deal with Mr Gough.

If there was any suggestion that he was a threat or a danger to the public, then it would of course be completely different. But there’s not. He just is someone who wants to walk about naked. In this day and age, I’m not sure that this is something that would outrage or harm the public, even children. After all, a couple of weeks ago several hundred people cycled naked through London. Civilisation didn’t collapse, no children were upset and nobody got hurt.

In any event, is this someone that we need to prosecute and lock up? The cost of the ASBO, this prosecution, and the jail sentence, is going to be over £50,000. That’s a lot of money. Do we, as a society, need to spend that to express our disapproval of his lifestyle choice, however un-orthodox it may be?

I can see that there is an argument that to stop proceedings in the future against Mr Gough effectively send a signal that the law can be beaten by repeated flouting. If the offending was shoplifting, then I would agree.

Here, the point seems to be that Mr Gough may be a nuisance to some, he may offend others, and people may disapprove of him. None of those things, however, are enough to mean his behaviour should be criminalised. I don’t know why he feels the urge to ramble about almost naked, but if in the future I see him walking naked, I would just walk on by and not call the police. If nothing else, it would save us all some money and leave the police to deal with some proper crime.

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Dan is a barrister at 2 Dr. Johnson’s Buildings practising in crime.

38 COMMENTS

  1. I equally have no desire to see him naked. However, I have no desire to spend the best part of a million quid to continually prosecute and incarcerate him over the last ten years.

    But slightly worried you both agree!!

  2. He’s either a criminal that needs to be dealt with by the law or not. The monetary aspect is an issue over the cost of jailing prisoners which strikes me as a different debate to that raised here.

    • I think the cost of a prosecution has to come into a decision whether or not to prosecute. Is it a proportionate response to spend £425,000 in legal aid defending Norris and Dobbs (convicted of the Stephen Lawrence murder)? Yes. Is it proportionate to spend that prosecuting me for speeding? Clearly not. Why bother wasting the money?

      I think the pertinent question is does the state need to intervene at all? I think probably not.

  3. Was he wielding a truncheon in a threatening manner? I suspect not. It must surely be the easiest thing for a person to avert their gaze from that which they don’t wish to see, people in and around the Birmingham Bullring did it for decades. Here’s the thing…..underneath these clothes, I’m completely naked! If I removed them, there would be no surprises, I look pretty much how you would imagine I would. In order to criminalise his conduct, the prosecution have had to jump through legal hoops, and for what? What crime have they prevented. Granted contempt of court is serious, but the court should never have put itself, or him, in that situation in the first place. It’s a self fulfilling prophesy, if the court can wangle (not a euphemism) a trumped up order, there is a certain inevitability in his breaking it, they knew that.

    • I think your final point is an interesting one. Of course the court would say there is no inevitability as he should regulate his behaviour accordingly, however I do agree that taking a realistic view of the case, he was always going to breach the ASBO. There is case law which says that courts shouldnt make order which are going to inevitably place the subject in breach of that order. This isnt quite the same as that but there is a similarity.

      • You may think it offensive. I do not. Why do you think your view should be enforced by putting someone in jail, and mine ignored? What gives you the right to impose your view of the world on others, ‘sister’?

  4. This wasn’t policing of any law, this was policing of prejudice. It is not illegal to be naked in public, and Steves walk in 2005 showed that different police forces operated different policies in the application of the same laws.

    When someone can measurably demonstrate the harm, to children and little old ladies, caused by the sight of a naked human being I’ll be the first to call for his imprisonment, but we know that isn’t going to happen.

  5. I think Lyndon has hit the nail on the head here. The tax paying public spend a fortune prosecuting individuals accused of serious, and sometimes not so serious, criminal offences. Personally, I don’t want my hard-earned taxes being spent on prosecuting individuals such as Stephen Gough. I don’t have any desire to see him wandering around naked but I’d rather avert my eyes than see him in Court.

    In deciding whether to prosecute each case, the Code for Crown Prosecutors ( http://www.cps.gov.uk/publications/code_for_crown_prosecutors/codetest.html ) will be applied. In this case I wonder whether the Code was properly applied. Where is the public interest in prosecuting this man? Is a prosecution a proportionate response? Or would CPS time be better spent dealing with individuals who pose a real threat to the public?

  6. I was at the trial. The original convictions from which the ASBO arose were s5 Public Order Act. There was a presumption in the proceedings that the mere sight of a naked person causes harassment, alarm and distress, suffcient to deprive a person of their liberty and give them a criminal record. This was never tested, but should have been. The complainiants said they were ‘upset’, but there was no evidence of real harm. I get upset at the sight of tattoos, or horses being ridden on the highway, but I tolerate them. Why can’t people tolerate a harmless eccentric who has harmed no one?
    The Establishment is institutionally prudish, and therefore out of touch with the vast majority of society who just don’t care. Society can not be run to pander to the prissy and prigish few who resent others’ lifestyle simply because it is not theirs.

    • It’s not prudery. No-one wants to see a bloke walking around with his bits hanging out. He might think it’s wonderful he can go live in some remote, giant thistle infested part of the country with all those whose agree with him are free to join him. Wee willy wonka and his band of merry *****

    • We are not prissy or priggish it is your view which is out of step with the majority of decent thinking people. Cover you bits up in public like other people do or go somewhere where the rest of civilised society don’t have to see you or them but that’s the draw though, isn’t it, walking around naked in front of people if no-one can see you there’s no sensationalism and no reaction therefore no sport for exhibitionists like this tosser. Lock the door to his padded cell and throw away the key.

      • Yes you are prissy and priggish in being phobic towards the human body. Everyone has one you know. Why do you think it is unacceptable to see what we all are? Or maybe yours is the usual completely unthinking response “It just is”. I can accept that it may be your opinion, but why do think you have the right to punish others for not agreeing with you. Demanding he be locked up is sheer vindictive bigotry.

  7. Anyone know why he wasn’t allowed to stand trial naked? He didn’t wear any clothes when he pleaded Not Guilty in April? What were the trial judge’s reasons?

    • I was at the trial. The judge merely said to the jury that he was not present because he refused to get dressed. There was no further explanation given, and no one questioned her decision.
      I think this discloses a worryingly closed minset by the jusge.

      • No I am not, if this is not about exhibitionism, showing off, deliberately to shock and cause offence, then why doesn’t he go and do his nakedness somewhere remote and isolated where no-one can see him. No shock value then, no court appearances, no reaction. If he wants to be in civilised society then he abides by the rules or goes elsewhere. He does not have the right to flash his private parts in public without the explicit consent of anyone who comes into contact with him. And just your saying my or anyone else, including the courts objecting to it, do so out of prudishness and priggery does not make it so.

  8. Mr Gough does go naked in remote places also, in fact he goes naked everywhere and doesn’t make a point of finding people. It’s just that we live in a crowded country and meeting people is inevitable. In a crowded society tolerance of others is essential. He tolerates you, and does not harm you, why can’t you tolerate him?
    How about answering why you think that the sight of a naked person damages you in some way? Anyway, why do you get so worked up, ‘sister’, you’ve never even seen him?
    You just seem to be someone who gets a kick out of venting your bigotry.

    • Let’s be clear this is about exhibitionism nothing more nothing less. If he wants to be naked let him do so where no-one can see him and not take his bigotry out on me and others who have no desire to see him and his getting a kick out of offending public decency. And as for “calm down dear” and all the other emotive language maybe you should run for prime minister just want the country needs another joke.

      • You are merely repeating yourself dear lady, andfailing to answer any of the questions asked of you. Saying the same wrong think time and again does not make it right.
        And if you want to stand and shout at people for being different to you, please take it somewhere where no one else will have to hear you.

  9. And again that would be a no. I shall repeat as you appear to be a bit slow or wilfully ignorant, dear gentleman, at getting the point. This exhibitionist is offending public decency for his own titilating if he can’t cover up and comply with the rules of civilised, decent minded people he needs to take his attention seeking behaviour away from this rest of us, as far as is humanely possible And if you want to stand at shout at me or anyone for having a different opinion to yourself I suggest you follow your own advice and take naked boy with you.

    • I can see you are a classic troll using all the usual troll techniques, including reflecting a comment back, repetition, refusal to answer questions, failure to justify statements with argument, and stating opinion as fact. Also known as ‘megaphone debate.’
      I shall therefore not continue this conversation as I feel I would be taking advantage to have a battle of wits with an unarmed lady. I therefore grant you the last word, as that is clearly all that will satisfy you.
      (This is where you say ‘I won!’.)

  10. What’s the Section 5 test got to do with it if he was sentenced for breaching an ASBO? It’s like asking why someone should go to prison just for playing loud music. They shouldn’t. But they should, or might, if they’re in breach of a court order. Or have I completely missed the point? It wouldn’t be the first time.

  11. Gough is not a criminal. He is an eccentric. Continuously imprisoning someone for harmless eccentricty is a gross abuse of the law. ASBOs were never intended to be used in this way. The court has used one on Gough because they know he has not broken any real law, and they do not know what else to do with him. Well here’s an idea: Leave him alone and stop wasting any more public money on this relentless persecution.

  12. As a one time naturist who used to live at one end of a beach which was used and bordered by a very wide range of people : the MoD training camp and antenna farm(where someone once bravely tried planting cannabis and was found out partly because the “keep out” sign was looking in suspiciously good repair,the real MoD hadn’t the budget),visiting army,navy,special forces,air force, the National Trust,a golf links rated as “difficult”,a tourist holiday camp,several car parks under different authorities, several hotels, restaurants ,a bahai’i community and a youth hostel ,electricity substation,private houses some rentals,some studios, horse and donkey riders, dogwalkers even after almost everywhere else tried to ban them,every kind of board for riding there ever was, combinations including kites and buggies and para and hanggliders sometimes a hot air balloon and private plane , jetskis , fishing boats,dive boats , occaisionally fireworks and definitely bands at a beach bar/restaurant with trampolines and slide, free spirits from all over the world (mostly Europe and Commonwealth but others too) in the dune parties ,triatheletes , hikers , Christian youth groups , surf life saving club(with motor and oared- boats paddle skis landrovers and quad bikes) who kept the whole place relatively safe very occaisionally calling on the air ambulance or the police.Rarely customs , navy air sea rescue , the bomb squad ‘cos some pretty weird things got washed up.God ruled the Sea,The Duchy of Cornwall ruled the Low to high water marks (the difference between the two here was vast a full mile between extremes)and The Parish Council ruled the remainder ,a brilliant combination of every thing and nothing.They were unsung heroes even if they were weird . The point was that nobody really bothered each other,We all made room for each other .It needed work and goodwill but what doesn’t.
    In the case of the Nudists : they , by some unspoken agreement over 60 years old kept to the other end of the beach three miles or so away where the families and couples were in the nude at the bottom of the two hundred foot dunes ,the gay guys ,bisexuals male and female, transexuals ,(lesbians a few?) questioning and swingers ,sometimes with their girlfriends in the middle heights with the voyeurs with their binoculars at the top . One lady tried to tell me there was a gay prostitution ring going on.I really hoped not , apart from lowering the tone , it was , I can promise you , virtually totally unnecessary..Dear God ! what a lesson if you could open your eyes and what better way to observe it than cleaning the beach before dawn , chatting with the metal detectors,early workers including village notables and wise very hard working yet humble crew then the regulars and early risers breakfasters who’d heard ,fetching provisions from the village or from deliverymen from further along this still wild yet peacefully free coast picking up news not just gossip in a natural fashion and being free to put all of it to use in the two or three or more hours (depending whose shift and whether they wanted to surf sleep or drink) . I did it all I only regret I didn’t do more of each but let myself get fearful of breaking rules or failing to conform.It is no accident that my understanding increased because of all of these people and the examples they showed.Eventually I participated with every single group mentioned in their chosen activity as well as other ways , .From going to work barefoot trying to observe as much as possible to completing the above trusted to record our own hours and to take time if need be then fix anything before the break a quick walk to the far end ripping off all clothes and , as God once asked us , naked , into the sea. Afterwards a meditation and perhaps a formal prayer,mostly of forgivness referencing the regret at not offering a more complete prayer and offering a substitute of an intensely lived and much appreciated life at this time Lord,not sure if the joint is compulsory or forbidden but seems not to harm if I don’t do too much.(important point there The Lord might have made it on the third day but not to be abused ). Do you mind if i find out about myself with everyone of the many people crossing these dozens of pathways through these so obviously free and blessed dunes? I f I’m more careful than mindless?more careful than that, just so as not to cause heart break,learnt that fast when it came.By the time I left some of the innocence disappeared , camping (always free , if extremely windy)was banned there was an official dune ranger who was probably the most highly qualified individual for the job we’d ever set eyes on and a good indicator that the outside world had changed a long time ago because the paper certificates were accepted as transferable proof of knowledge ,Whereas most of the village business was along the lines of who you knew and who they knew and so on until a solution or three was found..One time we found needle users who left their needles they not welcome.
    Every year someone would die in a safety accident among the many thousands who came,But only rarely was there a reported rape.in that different atmosphere probably many things went on that were uncomfortable and secret.prostitution did exist elsewhere We didn’t have much immediate problem with race as the English had marginalized the Cornish who were mistreated by central government and the many mediocre staff they manned the region’s offices with,but most of the English residents were those who had once been on holiday and thus moved in part to get away and had empathy with the Cornish.House prices were outrageous for a local wage only a long mortgage or social housing
    .No-one wanted to blow it up not many wanted to arrest people and everyone breathed the shared air of Cornish Hospitality and if you kept your eyes open enough,spiritual brother and sisterhood.The Law was at it’s best by being light touched for the most part though only a fool disregarded the common , shared sense of Respect .Almost Everybody knew that almost everybody was capable of being foolish sometimes and most people would help you by saying so ,giving you a hint as to how to proceed.

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