Background and facts
Stephen Gough has obtained a fair amount of notoriety (as well as a fair few convictions) over the years. He has even got his own wikipedia page. He is a former marine who is a ‘nudity activist’. Since 2003 he has spent a total of six years in prison for charges arising out of his naturism, which he combines with a passion for rambling, hence his moniker.
He was made the subject of an Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO) by Southampton Magistrates’ Court on 28th February 2013. We don’t have the exact terms, but it seems to have included a term that he must cover his buttocks and genitalia (presumably in public).
Just after it was made, he walked out of the Magistrates Court still naked. The police in attendance offered him clothes, which he declined. Whereupon he was arrested and charged with breaching the order.
The case ended up in the Portsmouth Crown Court. Mr Gough was not allowed into Court naked and so the trial proceeded without him. Unsurprisingly, he was convicted fairly swiftly by the jury.
The Judge sentenced him on 19th June 2013 to 11 months in prison. As he has been on remand since being arrested, he will be released in early August.
Was the sentence right?
There are sentencing guidelines for the offence. The sentence of the Judge puts it in the higher category which requires “Serious harassment, alarm or distress [to be] caused or where such harm was intended“.
I doubt that that was the case. It is not clear who would have been present, but there is nothing to suggest any harassment, alarm or distress was actually caused. In all probability it caused amusement, or weary sighs, from the people nearby.
The reason that the sentence would have been as high as it was is probably because of the repeated history of Mr Gough wandering around naked and the fact that he has shown no contrition. Given that an ASBO doesn’t work, and clearly won’t work, the Judge probably felt that she had no choice but to pass a prison sentence.
Will there be an appeal? Probably. It’s unlikely to succeed. A non-custodial sentence would not have been complied with and I imagine that the Court of Appeal will not interfere with the length of the sentence imposed.
It may be that I am unduly phlegmatic, but I really question whether there is any point in rolling out the machinery of the state to deal with Mr Gough.
If there was any suggestion that he was a threat or a danger to the public, then it would of course be completely different. But there’s not. He just is someone who wants to walk about naked. In this day and age, I’m not sure that this is something that would outrage or harm the public, even children. After all, a couple of weeks ago several hundred people cycled naked through London. Civilisation didn’t collapse, no children were upset and nobody got hurt.
In any event, is this someone that we need to prosecute and lock up? The cost of the ASBO, this prosecution, and the jail sentence, is going to be over £50,000. That’s a lot of money. Do we, as a society, need to spend that to express our disapproval of his lifestyle choice, however un-orthodox it may be?
I can see that there is an argument that to stop proceedings in the future against Mr Gough effectively send a signal that the law can be beaten by repeated flouting. If the offending was shoplifting, then I would agree.
Here, the point seems to be that Mr Gough may be a nuisance to some, he may offend others, and people may disapprove of him. None of those things, however, are enough to mean his behaviour should be criminalised. I don’t know why he feels the urge to ramble about almost naked, but if in the future I see him walking naked, I would just walk on by and not call the police. If nothing else, it would save us all some money and leave the police to deal with some proper crime.