In the last three issues [#5, p3] [#6, p7] [#7, p3] of Gay News you have probably read about Denis Lemon (me) and his brush with the law of the land. To go back over old history, I was arrested in Wharfedale Street, which runs parallel to the Old Brompton Road, and is directly behind the Coleherne public house. Although this pub needs no introduction to the majority of London gay men it might be useful to out-of-towners to know that the Coleherne is one of the busiest gay pubs in London.
On Saturday 12th August shortly after closing time I was taken into custody for wilfully obstructing the footway, and eventually, after a series of remands and one false start, I was found guilty of obstructing the highway in Wharfdale Street, holding up traffic. That’s how it must have seemed to Magistrate John Hooper anyway.
I was fined £5 which was duly paid by a close friend of the Gay News editorial collective. The costs of the case – my solicitor’s fees, court time, police expenses, etc. — were paid by the state. The amount the case cost the taxpayers of this country could be conservatively estimated at being no less than £100.
Now the case itself is an extremely minor one, it happens to numerous people every day in every city across Great Britain. But at the risk of boring you even further with this petty case (except to the taxpayer) I would like to make a few comments on the magistrate’s decision; why 1 was arrested and the implications the case raises.
Nine out of ten persons who plead not guilty in magistrates courts, and who are subsequently found guilty, still insist that they have had the wrong decision passed in judgement upon them. I am joining that majority. To me being in the middle of the road means just that to be where one of those white or yellow lines are that run down the centre of roads. When I was arrested, I was no further than two feet away from the curb. I was also standing between two parked cars, so unless motor vehicles now have wings attached to them I don’t see how I could have been obstructing anything except the mentality of PC David Ford (480).
But apparently ‘policemen cannot lie’ (or even be mistaken) so game, set and match went to bearded PC Ford. This happened despite the evidence offered by Wolfgang von Jurgen who must now be, in the opinion of Magistrate Hooper, either an incompetent idiot with extremely poor eyesight or a perjurer. That must go for me too, because I also said on oath, that I was at no time anywhere near the centre of the road in Wharfdale street.
But as I said before, most convicted criminals (like myself) claim to be innocent when proven guilty.
I would like though – now that the case is no longer sub judice – to offer some explanations on what I was exactly guilty of. I was guilty of taking photographs of uniformed Metropolitan Police Officers whilst executing their duty. Their duty, or specifically PC Ford’s duty was that evening to “move on the queers” as it was so aptly put by the Station Sergeant of Kensington Police Station. And it is obvious now, PC Ford doesn’t like having his picture taken. In fact, he gets hysterical about it. Neither do any of the other officers who have been snapped whilst doing their almost nightly “move on there or you’ll be nicked” game outside of the Coleherne. One uniformed inspector from Chelsea Police Station got so uptight that he sent his sergeant scuttling across the road into Kensington ‘territory’ to find out what my “game was”.
My ‘game’ was to take photographs of police activity outside the Coleherne, also to take shots of the surrounding area and of any obstructions that may cause the footway and highway to be blocked. After an increasing number of arrests outside that pub, and the visual evidence of a number of Gay News collective members, it was decided that we ought to take some action. So to be fair, to both the people who had complained to us and to the police, it was decided that as well as taking statements from witnesses of this alleged harrassment, it would be best to take a series of photographs spanning a period of several weeks, to use as photographic evidence. This increasing amount of evidence, as we have said before, will eventually be passed on to the correct authorities, which include the National Council for Civil Liberties, the Albany Trust, members of the House of Commons, and Scotland Yard (with copies to the Kensington and Chelsea Police stations).
We have stated on various occasions that any photographs included in this investigation will have the recognisable features of everyone except the police officers blacked out by us, as already happened to a photograph used in GN 6.
The police’s first action concerning this collection of evidence was to arrest me, a member of the press. I didn’t at that time possess a National Union of Journalists identification card, which I am now told by informed people would have stopped the incident, but at no time was I asked if I was a union member, and it was only after considerable argument that the police believed I was from the press.
Now, I am not saying that the whole of Chelsea police station are abusing their powers, I am not even saying that all the officers who are almost nightly sent down to the Coleherne are, but a number of police officers are abusing their powers, and as a result are helping to create a bad name for the whole of the Metropolitan Police force in London, as well as causing considerable ill-feeling amongst the pub’s customers, who in time might be pushed just a little too far by certain uniformed bullies. I suggest that, even before Gay New’s report is finished, the police themselves start an investigation into this unnecessary harassment and time-wasting. Aren’t they themselves always saying that as a result of a lack of manpower, a lot of serious crime is not being prevented, and that detection is hindered continually for the same reason?
I would add that I regard the whole affair (and the incident described in GN 6, where I was taken into custody for a few hours for suspected possession of a stolen camera) as yet another example of the police overstepping their authority, and as proof that homosexuals are still subject to the sort of ridicule and harassment that has been a common feature of gay life for far too long. Can one completely condemn the mindlessness of “queer-bashing skinheads” when they are set such a good example by those who should most certainly know better? I would think it only right to ask for the dismissal from the force of any police officers who are proven to have exceeded their powers in cases such as this.
Gay News is now trying to hopefully prevent such events happening again, and our report on the situation will be completed. Until that time we would appreciate it if any member of the public, be they a Coleherne customer or otherwise, would report any incident to us, no matter how trivial it may appear to them, that they might witness or experience in the vicinity of the pub after 10.30 pm on any evening.