Last Monday I watched the trial of Stephen Gough in the Winchester Crown Court.
Mr Gough, a former Royal Marine, was accused of being naked in a public place. [Read court report here]

Now public nudity is not in itself a criminal offence in the UK; whether a particular instance of nudity is criminal or not depends on the specific facts of that particular instance. However, Mr Gough, also known as the “Naked Rambler”, has clearly annoyed the authorities by appearing naked in public too often.

As a result, they have imposed an “Anti-Social Behaviour Order” on him, which prevents him from being naked in public. This is a strange situation. ASBOs were created to deal with persistent, low-level anti-social behaviour which might not necessarily be criminal, but which harasses, alarms or distresses other people so much that it needs to be stopped: loud music, drunken behaviour, vandalism, graffiti and so on.

Once an ASBO is in place, any breach can constitute a criminal offence leading to up to five years’ imprisonment. Such draconian powers are poorly suited to dealing with complex conduct where fundamental British freedoms – like freedom of expression – are at stake.

As I understand it, Mr Gough (like many other people who appear naked in public) was trying to make a serious statement when he appeared naked on the streets. He can no longer make this statement, as any public nudity now leads automatically to arrest and imprisonment. In court, Mr Gough was asked to wear clothes and refused.

As a result, he was not allowed to be present during his own trial to hear the case against him, or to put his own case to the jury. The trial therefore consisted of the police telling the jury that they arrested Mr Gough as soon as he left prison (following the end of his last prison sentence for public nudity). They were waiting for him at the prison gate, and he refused to wear clothes.

The Judge told the jury that Mr Gough’s objections to the original ASBO were not relevant to the charge of breaching the ASBO. Having thus heard one side of the story the jury retired for eight minutes and then pronounced Mr Gough guilty, and he was sentenced to two-and-a-half years’ imprisonment. This is to be added to the eight years Mr Gough has already served in prison for public nudity; and since the ASBO is perpetual the same thing will happen, again and again, until Mr Gough dies in prison.

There is clearly a fundamental problem with the use of an ASBO in Mr Gough’s case, and I hope that common sense will prevail and that the ASBO will be ended soon. But I want to end with a thought about the trial itself, and the fact that the Judge did not allow Mr Gough to defend himself naked. Perhaps she wanted to preserve the dignity of the proceedings.

But I saw two things on Monday: a naked man in the dock – for a few minutes – followed by a jury trial without a defendant or a defence.

Both of these sights are unusual. But of the two, it was the second, with the jury reduced to the role of the prosecutor’s rubber stamp, that was the strangest, and by far the most sinister.

Profile photo of Vincent Scheurer About Vincent Scheurer
Vincent Scheurer is a lawyer specialising in video game contracts and the editor of the TIGA Model Contract. He set up Sarassin LLP, a legal consultancy in the video games industry, in 2004.

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7 Comments

  • George Gretton October 13, 2014 12:47 pm

    Hello Vincent,

    You seem oblivious of the fact that this is a well-thrashed issue here on The Justice Gap.

    You say “As I understand it, Mr Gough (like many other people who appear naked in public) was trying to make a serious statement when he appeared naked on the streets.”

    As a very extreme analogy, would you have said that groups of Paedomisetes were making serious statements, when they variously suggested that the age of consent for sexual activity should be lowered to 12, and even to 4 years old?

    Pray, would you have supported such “individual human rights oriented” proposals? Would you have endorsed the “rights” of individuals to have their way with CHILDREN, by TOTALLY ignoring the far more acute NEEDS of children NOT TO BE SEXUALLY ASSAULTED?

    Mr Gough is not making any serious statement about naturism and nudity – he has a screw loose, and needs care and help if he is seen as a fundamentally decent individual. Others’ human rights are routinely being violated my him, where those others are normal and standard people, and not “prudes”.

    George Gretton, who thought that this subject had been thrashed to death….

  • George Cavanagh October 16, 2014 10:34 pm

    Anyone who would like to see the BBC Naked Rambler documentary again which was aired last year can see the full length version here on permanent view in this link… https://plus.google.com/photos/110441815350596548994/albums/5974396051470221361/5974396058769194034?banner=pwa&pid=5974396058769194034&oid=110441815350596548994

    • George Gretton October 19, 2014 6:34 pm

      Thank you, George, but no…..

      I have better things to do with 50 minutes, that effectively give this individual, and not the issue, my attention.

      Yours, George

  • Blessed are the Cheesemakers September 9, 2015 4:21 pm

    How did you know the Naked Rambler dobumentary lasted 50 minutes George Cretton? You must have peaked!

  • George Porge September 10, 2015 1:05 pm

    Wow, quite a surprise to hear someone not supporting the Naked Rambler. I would guess only a tiny extreme bunch would sanction life imprisonment for not being dressed. Pretty sure I know who I’d rather be sitting next to at a bus stop 🙂 xxx

  • Jennifer Richards September 10, 2015 1:38 pm

    George Gretton, your analogy isn’t extreme, it’s absurd. The human rights act codifies the right to act with freedom so long as one doesn’t hurt another, your example of sexual abuse of children is clearly an issue of the rights of children not to be molested being infringed by the will of another. But in the case of public nudity, there is no abuse of another, which is why nudity is perfectly legal in the UK.

    The ASBO tragedy that effects many people’s freedoms, without real Parliamentary law making or oversight, is a farce, and probably unconstitutional, to the degree that it is against the spirit of our judicial and parliamentary system, and this is the real problem here.

    Some people argue that they have the right not to have to see a naked man (women seem to be free game in our misogynistic culture), but this falls down very quickly in a world where anyone can claim offense at any belief or behavior of another, which is why not liking the behavior of another, or not agreeing with their beliefs, should never be enough in itself to limit the freedoms of anyone.

    Lastly, it matters not one jot if Mr Gough is a fervent human rights campaigner or a lunatic (for most selfish people it’s the same difference anyway) because the right to exercise any freedom doesn’t require any explanation, and frankly if he were mentally ill or suffering any disability that is influences his behavior, one should be even more outraged at his abuse by the legal system!

  • david stokes September 29, 2015 12:58 pm

    Mr Gough sounds like a decent and humane person with a passion to tackle public perceptions around nudity. Locking him up for such lengths of time is vindictive and unnecessary, especially since so many true criminals are not locked up at all. He was brave enough to serve his country as a Royal Marine and the half-wit weaned on News of the World editorials who commented earlier might at least take note of that service. Let him wander naked where he wishes. He is innocent not wicked. The wicked you will find are always very well covered.

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