North Yorkshire Police urged to say sorry over LGBT+ ‘witch hunt’
Last updated Aug 26, 2023
Photo of human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell and broadcaster and comedian Paul O'Grady at the launch of the Peter Tatchell Foundation's #ApologiseNow campaign.
Photo of human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell and broadcaster and comedian Paul O'Grady at the launch of the Peter Tatchell

The chief constable of North Yorkshire Police is being urged to apologise for her force’s past “witch-hunting of the LGBT+ community”. 

The call comes in a letter to North Yorkshire’s top officer, Lisa Winward, from the veteran gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell. 

In the letter, Mr Tatchell, who is director of the human rights organisation the Peter Tatchell Foundation, acknowledges North Yorkshire Police’s “current supportive policies towards the LGBT+ community”, calling them “excellent progress”.

But he adds: 

“The North Yorkshire police force was very homophobic in past decades and went out of its way to target consenting, victimless behaviour that harmed no one. It wrecked the lives of many LGBT+ people.” 

The foundation is spearheading the #ApologiseNow campaign, urging all chief constables to say sorry for what it calls their “past anti-LGBT+ witch-hunts”.

In his letter, Mr Tatchell describes behaviours he says were frequently exhibited by the police:

“In the decades before the full decriminalisation of homosexuality in 2003 in England and Wales, your officers went out of their way to target and arrest gay and bisexual men for consenting, victimless behaviour. They were often excessive, harsh, vindictive and cruel.

“There was a de facto policy of sometimes releasing the names, addresses and workplaces of arrested men to the media, which led to public humiliation, ostracism, evictions, sackings and even violent attacks.

“In some cases, gay bars, clubs and even private birthday parties were raided. Same-sex couples were arrested for kissing, cuddling and holding hands in the street. Heterosexual couples engaged in similar behaviour were not. This was malicious homophobic policing and it wrecked lives.

“Upon conviction, these men were often jailed and beaten in prison. Others were hit with huge fines. Many lost their jobs, homes and marriages. Some were bashed by homophobic mobs, driven to mental breakdowns and attempted or committed suicide.

“With the stigma of a criminal conviction for a homosexual offence, a lot of the victims of police shaming had great difficulty in getting jobs and housing. Their lives were ruined by the police targeting consensual acts that harmed nobody.”

Mr Tatchell added:  

“I hope that a formal apology will be made to the LGBT+ community. It would help further improve LGBT+ trust and confidence in the police, which is what we all want.

“We do not expect an apology from the police for enforcing historic homophobic laws. What we are requesting is an apology for the often abusive and threatening way those laws were enforced – ways that would be deemed illegal and unacceptable today.

The Metropolitan Police has already apologised for its past behaviour, and backed it up with a new LGBT+ plan for London and the appointment of LGBT+ community liaison officers in every London borough. Similar apologies have also been made by the chief constables of Sussex and South Yorkshire, but West Midlands Police has said it will not apologise.

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The Chief Constable of Northumbria, Vanessa Jardine, is the lead on LGBT+ policy among UK chief constables and has written to all chief constables supporting calls for them to say sorry. The appeal is also endorsed by the National Police LGBT+ Network, which is made up of serving LGBT+ officers.

Asked about the force’s response to Mr Tatchell’s letter, a North Yorkshire Police spokesperson told the Stray Ferret: 

“North Yorkshire Police has committed itself to an array of inclusion and diversity initiatives of late, and much of that has been publicised. 

 “In relation to the [Peter Tatchell Foundation’s] press release, we’re aware of what other forces have done and are keeping it under consideration.” 

In 2000, North Yorkshire Police was one of the first forces in the UK to establish a helpline for lesbian and gay officers and civilian staff.

More recently, its Equality Objectives 2020-24 document lays out several aims affecting the LGBT+ community, including: increasing awareness and reporting of hate crime and providing victims with appropriate support; improving the treatment of victims of crime, especially those with protected characteristics; and increasing the representation rates of LGBT+ employees in senior police roles. 

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