Naked Rambler: The UK's oddest legal stand-off

 
Naked rambler in Cornwall

Naked Rambler Stephen Gough has spent more than six years in Scottish prisons for refusing to put his clothes on. The authorities have made it clear they do not want him there but the rambler is sticking to his principles. The result is possibly the UK's oddest legal stand-off.

The Naked Rambler has been released from prison in Edinburgh after serving his latest sentence for public nudity.

Stephen Gough has 18 convictions and has been in prison almost without a break since May 2006.

His previous spells of freedom have often been as little as a few seconds, with arrest following his refusal to wear clothes on departure from prison.

The offences of which he has been convicted are breach of the peace and contempt of court, refusing to wear clothes in front of the sheriff.

He has twice walked naked from Land's End to John O'Groats - in 2003-04 and 2005-06 - typically wearing only boots, socks, a rucksack and perhaps hat.

Start Quote

Human rights lawyer John Scott

The point Gough is trying to make has become an expensive one for the rest of us”

End Quote John Scott Human rights lawyer

In England, Gough had run-ins with the police, but the attitude in Scotland has consistently been tougher with police and courts mostly agreeing that being naked in public is fundamentally a breach of the peace.

Gough's attitude has also hardened, with the rambler refusing to wear clothes in court or after being arrested, leading to contempt of court convictions.

The authorities in Scotland are growing rather weary.

After his last conviction, the prosecution service issued a statement, the tone of which could be said to be exasperated.

The Crown Office, responsible for prosecutions in Scotland, pointed out that it and the police had done all they could to "prevent" Gough from offending. In order to break the "vicious circle" which sees Gough thrown back in prison as soon as he is released, police chiefs decided earlier this year on a different approach.

In July, Gough, a 53-year-old former marine from Eastleigh, Hampshire, was allowed to walk away from Perth prison without wearing clothes.

Ch Insp Andy McCann, of Tayside Police, says a decision was taken to allow Gough to go on his way and only arrest him if his behaviour was gratuitous. "We asked him to show a bit of consideration," McCann says.

But within three days, Gough was back in court after he walked naked past a children's playground in Fife.

Stephen Gough in 2011 Stephen Gough refuses to wear clothes in prison or in court

Adrian Cottam, procurator fiscal summary for the east of Scotland, says that despite repeated police requests, Gough has "intentionally caused shock and alarm to children and their parents".

At Kirkcaldy Sheriff Court, Sheriff James Williamson says Gough's "disregard for other members of the public, in particular children" shows "arrogance" and "self-indulgence". He also lost patience with Gough for his refusal to allow social workers to assess his mental health.

"When he did walk the length of the country he was variously ignored, celebrated and arrested," Ch Insp McCann says.

Police have a certain amount of discretion over whether to arrest a person for being naked in public, he adds, and if people just see Gough as an "oddity" it would be fine to allow him to carry on.

"It is about context and the alarm he is causing and his intention to cause alarm and whether his offences are flagrant and persistent."

Gough's second walk to John O'Groats ended in February 2006.

It took eight months because his trek was broken by spells in prison - but not even snow in the far north of Scotland could deter him from rambling naked.

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He is perceived to have been confrontational, intolerant and inconsiderate”

End Quote British Naturism on Gough's behaviour

In May of that year, on a flight from Southampton to Edinburgh to attend an Appeal Court hearing, Gough stripped off in the toilet and was arrested when the plane landed. He has been in prison pretty much since then, and has spent six years in segregation.

"He's had to be managed separately from other prisoners because he refuses to wear clothes," says Tom Fox, of the Scottish Prisons Service. "He is asked every day if he will put on clothes and he refuses."

Fox says it is a self-imposed segregation that causes difficulties for prison management, but prison rules say that clothes must be worn.

John Scott QC, chair of the Howard League for Penal Reform in Scotland, says the bill to keep Gough in prison for so long must have reached hundreds of thousands of pounds. It costs about £40,000 a prisoner a year, rising when an inmate is separated from others, and when he is repeatedly discharged and readmitted.

Other naked protests

  • In 1969, in Denmark, 300 individuals took part in a naked "wade-in" on a beach. As as result it is now permissible to be naked on all but two Danish beaches
  • The Freedom to be Yourself campaign, founded in 1999 by Vincent Bethell, have staged a series of nude demonstrations in the US and the UK
  • Peter Niehenke, founder of the German pro-naturist group Wald-FKK, has been fined several times for jogging naked
  • The German campaign Nacktwandern wants the right to go hiking in the nude
  • In Ukraine, the group Femen regularly holds naked demonstrations against sexism and sex tourism

"The point Gough is trying to make has become an expensive one for the rest of us," Scott says. "He has accrued the kind of prison sentence which people usually get for doing real harm and crimes of violence."

It is Gough's contention that to be naked in public is a fundamental freedom and that nakedness is an aspect of his personal autonomy.

"The human body isn't offensive," he told the Guardian in March 2012. "If that's what we're saying, as human beings, then it's not rational."

Gough says he is determined to make his way the length of the UK "without compromises". He took this view all the way to the Scottish appeal court, where it was rejected.

Scott, who is also a human rights lawyer, says being naked is "not generally accepted to be a human right".

"You can develop your own thinking on what a human right is but if that clashes with the rights of other people not to be upset or alarmed then you have a problem."

Andrew Welch, commercial manager of British Naturism, says Gough's behaviour has been "perceived to be confrontational, intolerant and inconsiderate".

But Welch agrees with the principle that it is not an offence to choose not to wear clothes. There is no evidence that nudity causes harm to anyone of any age, he says, and "body shame" results in widespread and often serious negative effects, mainly to children and young people.

"Nakedness is not illegal. A lot of this is about the application of the law," Welch says.

"Naturist people are law abiding but we would like to know what the law is. People in authority seem to let personal opinion overcome what the law says."

Naked rambler and friend in Cornwall

A number of Gough's convictions have been for contempt of court as he refuses to wear clothes in front of the sheriff. But the charge which gets him in front of the sheriff in the first place is breach of the peace.

Notable dates

  • Jan 2003: arrested in home town of Eastleigh, Hants
  • June: began Land's End to John O'Groats trek
  • Detained 13 times from June to August
  • In England, often quietly let out or released in another jurisdiction
  • Numerous arrests in Scotland in Duns, Selkirk and Inverness
  • 28 Nov: three-month sentence, but released from Inverness Prison due to time served and rearrested next day
  • 2005: two weeks in Edinburgh Prison and five months in Inverness Prison
  • May 2006: arrested on Southampton-Edinburgh flight, given three-month sentence
  • 25 Aug: seven-month sentence
  • 30 Nov 2007: three-month sentence for contempt of court (dating from Dec 2005)
  • 2008 - more arrests
  • 16 July 2009: 12-month sentence in Perth Prison
  • Feb 2010: 21-month sentence in Perth
  • Nov:sentenced to 15 months and 26 days
  • 25 Aug 2011: sentenced to 657 days
  • 13 Sept 2012: five-month sentence in Fife Prison, his 18th conviction

Criminal solicitor Grazia Robertson notes the flexibility of the offence. "You do not have to pass a new statute every time someone coughs in the wrong place," she says.

But just because "one little old lady is shocked" it is not enough to prove there has been a breach, she says.

On two occasions during his long history with the Scottish courts, Gough has been cleared by sheriffs.

In 2007, Sheriff Isobel Poole ruled there was insufficient evidence to show that his state of undress had caused alarm to members of the public. Gough had been arrested in the car park after being released from Saughton Prison in Edinburgh.

The sheriff decided there was no evidence of "actual alarm or disturbance", although she understood how such conduct could be considered unpleasant to passers-by.

If Gough maintains his insistence on public nudity, what can the Scottish legal system do?

One option - which the Crown Office says it has tried - is shipping him back to England.

On his release from Edinburgh prison in 2007, police officers offered to take Gough to an address of his choosing in Yorkshire. Although he originally agreed to go with them, he changed his mind and attempted to walk from the prison along the A71 and was arrested again.

Scott says the sooner a way is found to get Gough out of Scotland the better.

"It is a situation calling for a degree of compromise from the authorities but they can't be seen to be saying he can do whatever he wants. If it was decided to let him on his way naked, they would not be saying he has won. People are not going to copy him.

"The state needs to keep a sense of proportion because the harm he is causing is more offence and annoyance than damage to people and society. This could carry on until he is too ill to put on clothes. And that does not strike me as a sensible approach on behalf of the state."

 

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  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 975.

    i am shocked at the comments...

    surely it is not ok to show your penis to primary schools children.

    Typically, flashers have the highest crossover of all sex offenders into crimes against children - Daniel Wilcox, a forensic psychologist in Birmingham who treats sex offenders, including flashers, for the probation service

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 974.

    Why are people equating the desire to be naked to:

    - Mental health problems
    - being a sexual predator
    - being a nuicance to the tax payers
    - Post traumatic stress disorder and being 'mentally scarred'

    I say it would probably take a trained marine to have the courage and strength to do what he's doing with his life, i'm quite tempted to join him. But no, i'll carry on, slowly dying, clothed.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 973.

    I cannot see any rational argument for forcing people to wear clothes. What is wrong with the human body? The Sistine Chapel has God the Creator as a naked figure,as well as man the created.
    This rambler has the guts to do what he believes in. Leave him alone.I'd rather meet a naked rambler who shows human kindness than selfish folk wearing clothes.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 972.

    961.MoMony1985

    NOBODY can argue in any shape or form that is acceptable to do this in front of children.
    --
    Children do not know that nudity is wrong until someone brainwashes them, usually the parents and/or religious indoctrination..

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 971.

    @ 964 stu2630

    "Gough has no mandate to engineer mass culture"

    Now you're giving him more credit than even I would give him!

    I just wonder how different attitudes would be if he was a young woman.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 970.

    963.jeffzekas

    All societies, even the most undeveloped, wear clothing.
    --
    Wrong, some just wear a penis gourd, adornment only.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 969.

    Stu2630

    A mandate to engineer mass culture? Does anyone get one of those?

    Change happens from the margin. Gough is certainly on the margin, but the police appear to be changing their approach so I guess he is succeeding,

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 968.

    965.Kennys_Heroes
    @ 959 ludwigvb
    "No doubt when you next visit a public toilet for a number two you will, free of any inhibitions, leave the door wide open and smile at passers by?"

    What most of the people in my Uni residence used to do.

    That would be the 'Open' University then?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 967.

    959.udwigvb
    prob. not 'religious indoctrination', just something you don't feel.
    --
    and that would be? A sense of decency!

    No doubt when you next visit a public toilet for a number two you will, free of any inhibitions, leave the door wide open and smile at passers by?
    --
    My modesty would have me close the door. Decency would have me make sure the flush did a %100 job.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 966.

    There's some far creepier and more dangerous people than this guy living inconspicuously amongst us,

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 965.

    @ 959 ludwigvb

    "No doubt when you next visit a public toilet for a number two you will, free of any inhibitions, leave the door wide open and smile at passers by?"

    What most of the people in my Uni residence used to do.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 964.

    Dilbert

    Yes, cultures change - by evolutionary steps, and they ebb and flow in both directions, from licentiousness to prudery and back.Victorianism was one extreme - Gough's nirvana is the other: I have no more wish to live in his world than I have to live under Victorian mores. Gough has no mandate to engineer mass culture in Scotland, or elsewhere, to suit his own preferences or ideology.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 963.

    All societies, even the most undeveloped, wear clothing. So, even though nudity is our natural state, it is NOT natural to prance around naked. For a man to break societal taboos in such a flagrant manner indicates some sort of mental imbalance, or so we may assume from his repeated, foolish behaviour; Because he seems to enjoy being arrested, as though, somehow, such arrests vindicate him.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 962.

    Just let him get on with, he isn't hurting anyone, and has he actually offended anyone?

    I'm sure if he was not paid any attention, he would cease.

    Also; how does anyone walk naked around Scotland, it is one of the most hostile environments always being wet, cold, or both.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 961.

    I can see the point if he doesnt wanna wear clothes in certain places that is fair enough. NOBODY can argue in any shape or form that is acceptable to do this in front of children. If he is knowlingly doing this in places that he knows young children will see him then he is nothing more than a flasher a "pervert"

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 960.

    Stu2630

    Cultures change. What was once offensive now seems quaint.

    I'd guess that in 100 years history students will laugh as their teachers explain about the prudish ways of the early 21st C in the same way as I laughed when I heard about Victorians covering their ankles to avoid "inflaming mens' passions"

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 959.

    958.Cariboo
    955.
    ludwigvb

    prob. not 'religious indoctrination', just something you don't feel.
    --
    and that would be? A sense of decency!

    No doubt when you next visit a public toilet for a number two you will, free of any inhibitions, leave the door wide open and smile at passers by?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 958.

    955.
    ludwigvb

    prob. not 'religious indoctrination', just something you don't feel.
    --
    and that would be?
    --
    I'll be visiting the toilet later. Not sinful ... fancy watching?
    --
    That is probably the problem with public nudity, to many people fancy watching and that is a bit uncomfortable for them. Watching my cats get the hole just right is funny, you not so funny.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 957.

    Just let him do it.................

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 956.

    He chose his cause over his children, which is something very sad... I saw his previous photo with his two kids. He obviously looks a lot better with his cloth on..

 

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