British police bosses have ordered officers not to demand DNA samples from gay men who are only guilty of victimless sex crimes.
Police around the country are currently collecting DNA samples for a national database in an exercise called Operation Nutmeg. The round-up is for people who have committed crimes since 1995.
But veteran gay activist Peter Tatchell has accused some of carrying out a ‘homophobic witch hunt’. He says they are collecting samples from gay men who were convicted for sexual offenses with consenting adults which would no longer be against the law.
Sex legislation – much of it dating from the Victorian era – was changed under the Sexual Offenses Act 2003 to make it equal for gay people and to eradicate ‘victimless crimes’.
Tatchell claims to have cases from West Yorkshire, London, Northumbria, the West Midlands, Manchester and Essex where police have demanded DNA samples from innocent gay men.
The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) says Operation Nutmeg officers had been told to ignore non-crimes like this.
And they told Gay Star News they had now re-iterated that guidance.
One gay man from London, who did not wish to be named, told GSN it had happened to him.
He said: ‘I was convicted of gross indecency in 1999 and taken to court and given a conditional discharge.
‘It was in the public loo but it was in private. It was with another guy but it was consensual and we were both adults.’
He believed a DNA sample had been taken at the time but 14 years later, he was visited by two officers from London’s Metropolitan Police.
He was told he could either consent to giving a sample straight away or, if he refused, visit the police station between 22 and 29 January. If he refused again, he was told he could be criminally liable.
Despite this, he has refused and appealed his case to the police commissioner. He is awaiting a response.
As a teacher at the time of the original ‘offense’, he had been suspended from working in schools. But the government’s education department later confirmed he was not a danger to children and could teach again.
He said: ‘It’s just ridiculous. I understand they may need a database for people who are a danger to the public but that’s completely not me. I am a law-abiding citizen. I don’t have any other convictions.
‘I am angry, totally perplexed and it feels like harassment to me.’
His case seems to show police have acted directly against the ACPO guidance.
A statement from ACPO lead on the DNA database Amanda Cooper said: ‘As part of the guidance issued to forces it was highlighted that certain sexual offences … should not have a DNA sample taken on the grounds of a sole conviction.’
If so it is not the only admitted error. Greater Manchester Police appear to be reviewing their procedures after being forced to reassure gay and bisexual men they were not being targeted.
He now lives in Salford, Greater Manchester, and was arrested and jailed for ‘gross indecency’ in 1983, when he was 20.
He was in the army at the time and claims he was abused by military police and subjected to violent assaults. He eventually confessed to having sex with a fellow squaddie.
Although homosexuality was partly decriminalized for civilians in 1967, it remained an imprisonable military offence until 1994. Close was jailed for six months and discharged from the army with disgrace.
But despite this no longer being a crime, police visited him and obtained a DNA sample.
They have now apologized to Close.
Deputy Chief Constable Ian Hopkins said: ‘Following a full review of all the circumstances Greater Manchester Police has decided to destroy DNA samples taken from Mr Stephen Close.
‘At no point was his sample put on the DNA database nor was any information put on the Police National Computer.
‘A senior police officer visited him last night to update him on our position and to apologize personally about what has happened.
‘We also thanked him for bringing this matter to our attention and as a result we are now reviewing the cases of those who have had samples taken and those still to be taken.
‘I am very conscious of the very personal and sensitive issues raised by Mr Close in relation to his own case and that was clearly a factor in our decision making.
‘The request for his DNA was made based on his full police record… That said our request was made without proper consideration of all the facts and once again for that I apologize.
‘I strongly refute any claims of a “witch-hunt” or similar allegations that we are targeting the gay community.’
In this case it appears to have been a breakdown in their assessment procedures, something ACPO also address in Cooper’s statement.
She says: ‘Operation Nutmeg guidance issued to forces by ACPO explains that prior to making a decision … they should undertake their own risk assessment on each named subject.
‘ACPO has reiterated this point to all forces.’
With Operation Nutmeg due to continue until September, Tatchell wants ‘gross indecency’ offenses taken off the list for which DNA samples may be requested altogether.
He said: ‘Because it is a consensual, victimless offence, gross indecency should not be in the ACPO guidance at all.
‘These men are not a threat to the public.’
He told GSN he suspected the problem was even more widespread than the forces he has highlighted so far.
Meanwhile experts are emphasizing that people with a historic conviction for consensual same-sex relations can actually get them expunged from their record.
They have to write to the Home Secretary or visit the Home Office website and make an application for the conviction to be quashed and the entries on the Police National Computer and National DNA Database disregarded.
It is up to the individual to make that application and the Home Secretary will make a decision.