As you may have read in Gay News No. 4, and have possibly noticed in this edition of the paper, I (Denis Lemon) have been arrested, and remanded twice, on a charge of ‘wilful obstruction’. Of course, at present I can make no comment on the case as it is sub judice.
But what I can comment on is the fact that on the Sunday evening of 27th August (at approximately 10.45 p.m.) I was taken into custody for suspected possession of a stolen camera.
Earlier that evening I had been selling copies of Gay News in The Colherne public house in Old Brompton Road, London SW5. After ‘closing time’ I crossed to the opposite side of the road to the pub, where, after seeing a group of four uniformed police officers moving people on outside the pub in an unnecessarily rude manner, I took a photograph of them.
No sooner had the flash of my camera died than the police officers came bounding across the road, as if there was an armed robbery taking place behind me. Incidentally the policemen had left their own ‘manor’ because The Colherne side of the road is under the jurisdiction of Chelsea Police, whilst the opposite side is under the control of Kensington Police. Undeterred by this minor legality I was questioned about why I had taken the photograph, and had the camera snatched from my hands in a way which could hardly be described as polite. I explained that it was my job at present, to take pictures in the vicinity, and of any police action outside The Colherne, as there have been many allegations of unnecessary harassment received at the Gay News office. This apparently was of no interest to the four policemen who then immediately started questioning me about my camera and whether I could prove, there and then, that it was mine. I told them that I couldn’t, but possibly could, if they cared to come either to my home or to the paper’s office. They weren’t particularly interested in this and told me that I would have to go to the Police Station with them.
Having recently enjoyed the delights of a cell at Chelsea Police Station, I insisted that as they were taking me into custody in Kensington that they should take me to Kensington Station.
After some discussion they finally agreed to my request with which I was bundled into the police van they had arrived in and was driven off into the wilds of Kensington.
On arriving I was searched thoroughly (even the pockets of my jacket were well sniffed for God knows what). Then I was questioned about my activities and the remote chance that I might not have committed a felony to obtain the camera. To cut a long story short, after two hours I was taken to my home where I produced the box that came with the camera when it was bought, which finally convinced the police that it had come into my possession legally. But I was severely warned that it was highly dangerous to walk about in the streets with property that I couldn’t prove was mine.
“People have gone to prison before now”, was a parting comment they left me with.
What might interest you is some of the comments the police made whilst I was their guest: “It’s bad enough that there are places (The Colherne) like that”; “Piss Off is a term used by everybody nowadays so it is unlikely to cause offence to anybody”; “Soon all you homosexuals will be driven out of sight again”; “The public has had enough of hearing about your sort”; “Papers like yours and the underground press will soon be stopped”; “If you took a picture of me I’d knock your head off”; “There are 195,000 people in Kensington who would like to see homosexuality stopped”; “The crime rate is going down so we are not wasting our time there (The Colherne)”.
Most of these comments came from the Station Sergeant at Kensington Police Station, who on various occasions throughout my two hour stay with them, informed me that I was a “pervert”, “a queer”, and “an abnormality that had to be stamped out.” He also said that he did and always would refer to black people as “wogs”, and that they didn’t mind and it was “too bad if they did”.
But what did make the whole fiasco almost worth while was the one constable who came into the room whilst the others were busy elsewhere, who said, “I’ve got nothing against homosexuals, I just get sent there (The Colherne)”. Thanks to that one police officer I still retain a little respect for the police, who are in my opinion doing in Kensington and Chelsea, one of the best anti-public relations campaigns in the history of the police force in this country.