Editorial

Now that John Vassall has been released from prison (after serving an immoderately long portion of his 15-year sentence for spying for the Russians), and as a new book on Sir Roger Casement is about to be published, it’s time to wonder whether these ‘gay traitors’ would be as vulnerable now as they were in 1916 and 1962 respectively.

There can be no doubt that Sir Roger Casement, hanged for his part in the alleged importation of rifles into Ireland for the Irish revolutionaries – was condemned almost as soon as the British Secret Service “discovered” the controversial Black Diaries, which, they said, Casement had written cataloguing his sexual adventures for three years.

Vassall was forced into spying when he was blackmailed by the Russians who set up a man for him to sleep with. With the blackmailer’s usual weapon, film, the Russians turned a clergyman’s son who had risen to a trusted post in the Admiralty into a spy.

It’s easy to say that in 1962 gay love was illegal between men, and that everything’s, changed since 1967 and the Sexual Offences Act.

The sad and sick truth is that nothing has changed. The sexual Offences Act was a typical piece of “permissive legislation” that gives nothing away. Its clauses, exempt males under 21 and merchant seamen and all members of the armed forces and policemen as well as imposing the limitations of sex to groups of two “consenting” adults and “in private”.

The courts see fit to change their minds about what “in private” means with many of the cases of ‘indecency’ that come before them.

Gay sex between two adults may be free, but male homosexuals are still faced by the absurd and discriminatory 21-year-old-and-over rule. Obviously we have not got equality if the male of the species is seen by society as less responsible than his heterosexual counterpart. Whatever the law may tell us, there is still a stigma.

It is while society creates differences and these differences themselves create feelings of job-insecurity, social degradation, that the conditions that hanged Casement and forced John Vassall into spying on his own country survive.

If there is to be more than an empty charade of equality for gays on society’s part, there must be a significant change in the legal standing of homosexuals in Britain.

Acts of Parliament that say that we may do one thing, but not another are not enough. They are not permissive – in the sense of permitting us to do anything – but truly limiting.

By limiting their activity, and by seeing homosexuals as different creatures from heterosexuals, the law is forcing people into situations where blackmail and near-blackmail are still possible and practiced – after all, blackmail includes the fear of losing their jobs that frightens so many gays, possibly the majority, into leading secret lives.

Secret lives aren’t healthy. They’re not whole lives. They’re the sort of situation that gives the blackmailer scope to corner his victim.

It’s quite clear that if Sir Roger Casement were tried today, the court would not take such a grave view of the alleged diaries of his sex life. We remain unconvinced that a court could treat him as they would if the diaries had never been produced. Even today.

We remain unconvinced that no man could be blackmailed into spying because of his gayness.

To create another Vassall, all a spy master would have to do would be to put another male under 21-years old or a member of the armed forces in his way. Perhaps even an imaginitive spy-creator could arrange for his victim to be photographed in bed with two men.

The law is still discriminatory, as we have said. To us it seems that nothing has changed since 1916.

Gay Spies Hit The Sundays

LONDON: Britain’s Sunday ‘heavy’ newspapers have suddenly had a rash of reports on people convicted of spying, who were said to be gay.

First it was John Vassall, interviewed by Francis Wyndham in the Sunday Times. He was a little camp, but essentially honest in the interview in which he remembered prison life – for instance, its concerts.

He said: “The ones we did ourselves were the best. There was one very amusing prisoner who was very good at dressing up. He had a nickname – Stella. Before Mountbatten (the Mountbatten Commission’s prison report) we had a wonderful concert at Thanet. We had to pick the Miss Thanet of 1965 – it was really a scream. Eight people took part: two of them were gay, so they knew what they were doing. People ran up dresses for the show, made wigs — everyone put in a lot of effort. Oh, it really was a hoot! I did a mime with someone else. He was a girl sitting on a bench and I came in as a man reading a newspaper. Somebody shouted out ‘You’re wasting your time there!’ Even I got a kick out of that. It’s much better to hear something than nothing.”

Next week The Observer slammed back with part one of a two-part serialisation of bits of a book by Brian Inglis on Sir Roger Casement, the eminent Edwardian hanged for treason in 1916 for his alleged part in the Irish ‘troubles’.

The Observer introduced the package with a paragraph describing Casement as a ‘diplomat, homosexual, Irish patriot’.

In his book Inglis claims that: “He (Casement) had left some of his possessions in his old London lodgings, among them his so-called Black Diaries for 1903, 1910 and 1911.”

Others have argued that these diaries never existed until the British Secret Service wanted to ensure Casement’s conviction and execution. It is said that they are not even in a passable imitation of Casement’s handwriting.

Indeed the Black Diaries are among the few once-secret papers the authorities keep very close tabs on.

They are still unpublished. They are in the British Museum but only ‘bona fide’ historians can get to see them.

Blackmailed Spy Freed

MAIDSTONE: William Vassall, the self-confessed spy, who was blackmailed by the Russians into spying for them because he was gay and homosexuality was illegal in Britain, has been released from prison, on parole — after waiting nearly four years.

William, who has changed his name by deed poll while in prison, was rushed out of prison by his lawyer after serving ten years of the 18 year sentence passed on him for handing over Government secrets to the Russians.

He said at his trial that he was a homosexual and that the Russians had blackmailed him by getting him involved in gay sex while he was working in Moscow. This they filmed through a mirror. Because gayness was illegal when William Vassall was tried for treason, this “blue” footage was excellent blackmailer’s stock.

While he was working as a spy, William received ridiculously little for the work he was doing. His danger-man work added a mere £700 a year to his income as a junior clerk at the Admiralty.

It was this trial that caused the further erosion of public trust in the Admiralty, which controls Britain’s own secret service. Evidence at the trial also named a senior official at the Admiralty who, it was said, was planning to escape with Vassall to Russia, Mr Thomas Galbraith.

Mr Galbraith was a much more important man in the navy department than William Vassall and the Macmillan Government had to set up the Radcliffe tribunal to investigate Britain’s security measures.

The weaknesses in Government bureaucracy shown up by the Radcliffe tribunal which jailed two pressmen who refused to disclose their sources of information, helped to destroy popular trust in the Macmillan administration, which fell in 1963.

Happy days may be here again for William Vassall, but there are several questions worth asking:

Why was a ‘model prisoner’ (E. Standard) kept waiting four years for parole?

Why were the papers given so much detail about the day-to-day life of the man they used to call Aunty at the Admiralty?

How long will papers such as the Evening Standard brand him a traitor and keep him in its viewfinders? He may have been a spy, but he’s done ten years in prison and he’s now on parole.

What will the police check on when he makes his regular parole calls on the local constabulary? His sex-life?