People causing a public nuisance by having sex in public places should be dealt with lightly, a top police officer says.
Deputy Chief Constable Michael Cunningham has drafted guidance for police officers telling them to turn a blind eye to sexual activity in public toilets and parks.
He recommends that police should avoid intervening unless there are complaints from the public.
Even then they should attempt to “inform and dissuade” perpetrators rather than charging them with causing a public nuisance, he says.
Mr Cunningham represents lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual issues for the Association of Chief Police Officers.
He suggests that if police take action in cases of homosexual sex in public places, individuals could be ‘outed’ and suffer humiliation and broken relationships.
Police must balance ordinary users of open spaces against “the human rights of those people who frequent open spaces for the purposes of having sexual relationships with other like-minded people,” he says.
Public decency laws currently make it illegal to engage in sexual activity in public toilets, parks, or other public places. The laws apply equally to same-sex and heterosexual couples.
The last attempt to make such activity legal failed after it was pointed out that a number of local authorities were having to close public toilets because they were becoming ‘dens’ for homosexuals using them as meeting places for casual sex.
Commenting on the suggestions, Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve said: “This is unacceptable. The law is the law and there should be no exceptions.”
One police constable in Brighton added: “Frankly it seems outrageous that we are effectively being told to turn a blind eye to these sorts of activities.
“Public sex – whether it’s gay or straight people – is the sort of thing that can cause real distress to most right-thinking people.
“Parents shouldn’t have to wander around worrying about whether their kids are going to find a used condom or see people engaged in lewd behaviour.”
A public nuisance
When the Government tried to legalise sex in public toilets in 2003, The Christian Institute presented a number of examples where the practice caused a serious public nuisance.
British Transport Police cautioned 34 men in five days for gross indecency after an operation targeting the public lavatories in Baker Street station in 2003.
A spokeman for the force said: ‘We have had a series of complaints about homosexual activity taking place in the lavatories, some of it witnessed by young children’.
In Guisborough, extra police had to patrol public toilets after they had become a meeting den for homosexual men to the extent that cleaning staff could not gain access to them.
In Stoke on Trent, councillors renovated a set of public toilets after local families complained they had become a regular meeting place for homosexual men.
A public toilet in a village in Barnsley was given a police guard after it appeared on a website telling men about meeting places for casual sex.
Edinburgh police warned the city’s gay community that using public toilets as a meeting place would not be tolerated, after members of the public who had used the facilities said they had seen men ‘cruising’ for sex.