Posted by Adam @ 2:56 pm on August 29th 2011

The naked truth about breaching the peace

Late last week, “naked rambler” Stephen Gough — a former Royal Marine who became famous for walking from one end of the UK to the other, unclothed all the way — was freed from Perth Prison, in Scotland, half-way through a three year prison sentence for Breach of the Peace and Contempt of Court. As is his wont, he left the prison naked and was promptly re-arrested and will do the extra year and a half of his sentence.

Gough is clearly a rather odd man who is determined not to wear clothing even if the result is lengthy prison terms, but I am bemused that they keep arresting the guy anyhow. This is why have a police force and courts and the might and majesty* of the judicial system? Once you make a law you effectively have to enforce it like this against people who refuse to obey, but Gough’s illustrating, to my mind, that it’s a godamned dumb law. Public nudity isn’t illegal in the UK, but the Breach of the Peace laws are fairly broad (and Contempt of Court is somewhat broad, too), but I’m just not convinced that this is a sensible use of those laws. If the nation doesn’t want a public nudity law — and he’d wandered around naked for a fair amount of time before it was decided he should get arrested, but since then he’s been in and out of prison for it — which the UK doesn’t have, is a catch-all like Breach of the Peace supposed to be used to keep sending a guy to prison for, effectively, offending people?

*Literally, in the case of the UK, it’s Her Majesty’s Prison Service, etc.


  1. I’m as anti-obscenity stuff as anybody, but it does seem to me that people (parents especially) ought to have a reasonable expectation of being able to go out in public without encountering a homeless guy’s wang the minute they step out of their minivans in the park. In general, I think it should be protected in private or so-designated areas, but my libertarian-ness breaks down when it comes to public commons’.

    Comment by Brad — 8/29/2011 @ 3:17 pm

  2. I’m a parent and, really, naked people aren’t instrinsically threatening, so far as I can see. Even though we (particularly in the US, and the UK to a somewhat lesser extent) often jump to “nakedness = sexual” I just can’t see why this guy’s nakedness reaches the level of breach of the peace and when there actually isn’t a law against public nakedness in the UK — and Mr Gough’s behaviour doesn’t fall under the Indecent Exposure legislation, which does require a sexual component of the exposure — this, to my mind, constitutes a judicial and police abuse.

    Also, of course, homeless people’s wangs are for various reasons often visible regardless of this enforcement of the law.

    Private businesses, of course, shouldn’t be required to allow naked people onto their premises, but in public I just don’t see why clothes should be required and for all that I don’t want to look at naked people in the high street myself, I don’t see why this is a case for prosecution.

    Comment by Adam — 9/1/2011 @ 9:58 am

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