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Naked Rambler Organisation

And the letter to the judge reads as follows:


His Honour Judge Cutler

Winchester Combined Court Centre

Winchester

SO23 9EL

 

28th  November 2015

 

Dear Judge

 

Stephen Gough

 

I write this letter in support of Stephen Gough, in connection with his sentencing for breach of an ASBO.  

Mr Gough is more than able to speak in his own defence, and he is best placed to explain his reasons to you in detail.  Nevertheless, I think that I may be able to assist the Court on two points that your Honour raised after his trial on the 19th October, and this is the primary purpose of this letter.  I would also like to take this opportunity to make a general statement of support for Mr Gough.

 

Who I am

 

I am a married father of two young children.  Although I am a barrister by training, I have worked for the past 18 years in legal and business affairs roles in industry.  I have no interest, personally or professionally, in nudity, public or otherwise.  Like many of Stephen’s supporters, I first became interested in his case when I heard about him in the mainstream press.  From the outset it struck me as surprising that he should have spent so long in prison for public nudity.  At that time, I (wrongly) assumed that public nudity was itself a criminal offence, so my initial concerns were directed primarily at the disproportionality of his continued re-arrest and re-incarceration. Obviously my concerns grew once I learnt that public nudity is not in itself a criminal offence, as I outline further below.

 

First Specific Point

 

The first specific issue I would like to raise is your Honour’s question to Mr Gough (after his trial) when your Honour asked whether he was essentially the only person in Britain who followed his cause (at least to the degree shown by Mr Gough).  Clearly there are other people who feel more comfortable naked than clothed, and some who use public nudity as a form of protest.  Mr Gough may fall in one or both of these categories, although it is really for him to elaborate on that; he also has a large number of supporters, and enjoys (I believe) general support among the wider public.  But this is common knowledge, and I understood rather that your Honour was asking whether anyone else was prepared to go to Mr Gough’s lengths for his cause.  

I do not believe that Mr Gough is alone in taking this matter extremely seriously. Activists around the world are prepared to take great risks by appearing naked or partially naked in a public forum.  For example, Tunisian feminist Amina Sboui was prepared to risk her life by posing partially naked, as reported on the BBC news website just this morning.  

Closer to home, I met another of Mr Gough’s supporters at the Court of Appeal hearing earlier this year who told me that he felt bound to report himself to the police whenever he moved house, simply because he preferred to be naked inside his own home and he anticipated a complaint to the police from someone seeing him from the street. There is no suggestion that nudity within one’s own home is a crime.  However, the very fact that this gentleman felt compelled to pre-warn the police of that activity suggests that he (and presumably others) are currently in a position of fear of serious ramifications even when acting entirely lawfully within their own homes.

 

Second Specific Point

 

The second specific issue I would like to raise concerns your Honour’s observation of the risk of Mr Gough frightening children were they to see him naked in public.  I very much doubt that he would frighten children. On the contrary, I think that children are much more likely to be surprised or even amused by seeing someone walk around naked in the street.  The fear is much more likely to arise in adults, but this is arguably because they are aware of the unusual nature of the activity, rather than because of the activity itself.  It is not so much the nudity itself that frightens, as the fact that it is wholly unusual (and therefore may be indicative of other unpredictable conduct).  But this reaction derives primarily from the fact that nudity is actively prevented by the police and others (even if technically lawful), rather than the conduct itself.  As such, fear of a naked person on the street arises ultimately from the conduct of prosecution authorities, rather than the conduct of the naked person himself or herself.  

 

As a parent of young children I harbour any number of fears for my children, but naked pedestrians whose conduct is entirely without sexual motive are not high on my list of concerns.  I am, however, very concerned about the impact of the current obsession with stylised or idealised representations of the human body, which is in vogue in the modern media.  Young people growing up need to understand that the human body comes in many different shapes and sizes and that the ones commonly seen in magazines and on television are not the “correct” or only shapes to aspire towards.  They should also grow up without developing a feeling of shame about themselves.  If our society were more relaxed about public nudity these forms of fallacy might be less common, to the wider benefit of our young people and of society as a whole.


General observation of support

 

This is a wholly exceptional case.  Stephen Gough has spent more than ten years behind bars, at immense public expense, for an activity which is not in itself a criminal offence and which does not, on any measure, justify this level of punishment.  I am told that he has spent much of this time in solitary confinement. Something has clearly gone terribly wrong with our system of justice, and Stephen’s case has exposed a grave flaw in the way in which the Anti-Social Behaviour Order process deals with individuals who behave outside of the then-current recognised norms of behaviour and refuse (or find themselves unable) to back down when asked.  I cannot bring myself to accept that our legal system, in many respect the envy of the world, could treat one of our citizens (a former Royal Marine) so ruthlessly for behaviour which, at worst, could be considered by some to be mildly eccentric.  

The utter disproportionality between activity and punishment is in itself grounds enough to break the cycle of arrest, trial and (increasingly lengthy) prison sentence.  But to this I would add a separate point, of which I have become increasingly convinced since I first heard of Stephen’s case: his core premise is actually quite correct. He maintains that the human body is simply not indecent; this, as I understand it, is the core of his argument. Having thought about this a great deal in recent years, since first hearing of Mr Gough, I cannot see how one can disagree with this.  There are clearly social norms as to wearing clothes and exposing skin, but a consideration of how these have changed over the past 150 years shows that these can change an awful lot between one generation and the next.  

In a society which recognises individual liberty and disclaims the inherent indecency of the naked human body, public nudity must surely be allowed.  It may be inconvenient, it may surprise or offend some people, but it must surely be allowed.  As with many other examples of public nudity, Stephen’s nudity is a public statement, a public protest.  His cause may be less popular than some of the others that use public nudity (for instance, causes promoted by naked bike rides, which incidentally are often assisted by local police).  But popularity has no bearing on whether he is right or not.  I would never dream of appearing naked in public.  However, I sincerely believe that Mr Gough is absolutely right when he says that the human body is not indecent.  Mr Gough is making a clear political, cultural and social statement when appearing naked in public.  This is quite unlike other recipients of ASBOs, and quite outside of the political justification for the ASBO regime in the first place.  This must surely weigh in his favour when he is sentenced.

 

Conclusion

 

I do not wish to persuade your Honour that Stephen Gough’s cause is correct.  As I mentioned above, that is something which he is best placed to do.  But I do wish to suggest that, irrespective of one’s opinion about his cause, he should be free to make his point (as long as he stays within the law) without going to prison for an indefinite period.  To date, he has spent more time in prison than an average child rapist.

 

Your Honour asked in court whether the continued arrest, jury trial and imprisonment of Mr Gough is in the public interest, as opposed to the previous practice of imposing fines.  I argue that it is self-evident that the current practice of arresting Mr Gough as soon as he is seen naked in public (without even waiting for a complaint from a member of the public) and then prosecuting him for breach of an ASBO (denying him the defences available to all of the other people who appear naked in public) cannot possibly be in the public interest.  Mr Gough is not targeting his behaviour at any particular individual, and he is harming nobody.  Imposing constant and increasing custodial sentences in his case is grossly disproportionate and risks bringing our entire system of justice into disrepute.  Our system is quite capable of dealing with non-standard but harmless behaviour without resorting to draconian remedies more suited to a different age.

Your Honour did not impose the original ASBO on Mr Gough, or make the decision to arrest or prosecute him for breaching it.  However, I would nevertheless ask that your Honour consider breaking the current cycle of arrest, imprisonment, release and re-arrest.  A clear statement from a senior judge that this is the wrong way to deal with Mr Gough could (and should) prompt a wholesale re-assessment of the approach taken towards him by the police, the prosecution authorities and those responsible for seeking the original ASBO in the first place.  This re-assessment is long overdue.

Yours sincerely

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