Now Reading
Police deny DNA ‘witch hunt’ against gay men

Police deny DNA ‘witch hunt’ against gay men

British police deny they are targeting the LGBT community by demanding DNA samples from gay men who were convicted of ‘victimless’ sexual offences.

Gay rights activist Peter Tatchell is calling on the Home Secretary and Chief Constables to halt the police’s ‘homophobic witch hunt’ of gay men convicted under the UK’s gross indecency law, despite the legislation being repealed in 2003.

The veteran campaigner claims forces in Greater Manchester and Northumbria have threatened to arrest the men if they fail to comply with their demands.

Tatchell fears the DNA will be kept by the police on a national database alongside rapists and murderers.

Powers to obtain DNA samples from offenders convicted of crimes in the past 40 years were granted under the Crime and Security Act 2010.

The legislation allows police forces to take samples from individuals if they have been convicted of any recordable offence or can be taken if one was not obtained at the time of the original offence itself.

Tatchell said: ‘Police have apparently lumped gross indecency – the victimless offence that was used to jail Oscar Wilde in 1895 – with violent sexual assaults and child molestation.’

‘Men convicted of the now repealed consensual offence of "gross indecency" are, in effect, being rebranded as serious criminals and treated on a par with the most vicious, violent sex fiends,’ he added.

‘They are being forced to go through the trauma of police abuse all over again.’

He quotes a man from Northumbria, who has asked to remain anonymous, that claims to be ‘traumatized’ by the police’s actions.

According to Tatchell, the man was convicted for a consenting offence at the age of 17. Now, nearly 30 years later and in a 10 year relationship, police have left him feeling depressed and suicidal.

Another man, Stephen Close, who now lives in Salford, Greater Manchester, 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 decriminalised for civilians in 1967, it remained an imprisonable military offence until 1994. Mr Close was jailed for six months and discharged from the army with disgrace.

Close said: ‘How long must I endure this burden? Will I ever be able to lead a normal life without worrying whether my past will come back to haunt me?’

However, police have denied they are targeting people based on their sexuality.

According to a Northumbria Police spokesman the operation is being led by the Home Office and ‘requires forces to obtain DNA samples and/or finger prints from people convicted of specified qualifying offences including homicides, violent crimes and sexual assault, where no DNA sample has previously been obtained.’

Greater Manchester Police also denied the operation is what Tatchell dubs an ‘anti-gay sweep’ and claims they are reviewing Close’s case to determine whether his DNA would be included on the National DNA database or the Police National Computer.

However, a police spokesman told Gay Star News that the letter to Close only contained information which stated a DNA sample was required in relation to a recordable offence or qualified offence. No specific offences were outlined in the letter.

The spokesman said: ‘If this was the sole offence against Mr Close then consideration would have been made in relation to the taking of the sample due to the time that has elapsed and the change in the law that means it would no longer be a criminal offence.

‘However, the request for his DNA was made based on his full police record and was in compliance with the legislation.

‘Therefore, I would stress again in the strongest possible terms that this is not about an individual’s sexuality.’

Greater Manchester Police say they have so far collected 851 DNA samples in the area.

West Midlands police are reportedly also pursuing a similar operation.

If an individual wishes to have a historic conviction for consensual same-sex relations expunged, they can 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.