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society's priorities and perceptions - guest post John Harding
I went on an eight mile walk today with my children; my new home is in a village surrounded by lush countryside, and we rambled down a closed railway branch line that had been converted into a public bridleway and walkway; Britain is full of these; this one starts off outside of a town, travels for ten miles to another town and we have only a disused station, a coffee shop and miles of spectacular countryside in between.
However, on our journey we came across four examples of fly-tipping; this is the illegal dumping of rubbish. Sometimes such materials come with a fee for legal waste disposal and recycling, and this encourages unscrupulous individuals to dump their, sometimes dangerous, waste in the countryside. It damages our natural landscape, creates a hazard to humans and animals, and costs local councils considerable sums of money to clean it up.
It is a serious issue. Last year councils in Britain had to address 900,000 incidents of illegal dumping, that each year costs the local authorities a staggering £50m ($80m) to clean up. It is a problem which councils and the National Flytipping Prevention Group are trying to tackle. They erect CCTV in areas known for illegal dumping of waste, encourage reporting and attempt to educate. There are sizeable fines open to courts for transgressors and, even, a prison sentence. Yet, it's a growing problem; year-on-year increases in fly-tipping reports show this.
The other ungodly sight that we saw was dog mess; while I don't doubt that the number of responsible dog owners is the vast majority, we saw over a dozen piles of dog excrement on our eight mile walk. Dog faeces is a danger to human health, laden with all kinds of nasty bacteria, some of which could cause blindness. We see dog poo bins everywhere, and yet, it's still a big problem.
I digress slightly from the point of this article but it frames the content somewhat nicely. At the turn of the year, I asked every single police authority how many arrests they had made in recent years for “being naked in a public place,” how many arrests for “flytipping” and how many arrests for failing to clean up after a defecating canine.
In Britain, for each offence you can be arrested for has a unique “home office” code, and it is these codes which formed the basic premise of my requests.
Now, I know this is a little unfair. Councils often bring court actions for fly-tipping not the Police, but there are arrest codes for some environmental offences linked to fly-tipping and there has been Police-led prosecutions. But it really sets the tone of society's priorities; naturism is being at one with nature and enjoying the beauty of our natural surroundings. Fly-tipping and dog-fouling is about poisoning that natural environment. Where's the priority? After all, no-one lost an eye to naturism; no-one came across toxic material by shedding their clothes!
I had another ulterior motive. The actual request on the public nudity was for the authorities to reveal:
The number of people arrested for being naked in a public place
- Please separate the figures to show which relevant piece of legislation that they were arrested for
As I later learnt, there was no “home office” code for being naked in a public place, because it is not illegal. For example, the Police don't necessarily detail what someone arrested under Sexual Offences Act was actually doing; does “exposure” mean flashing or was it a naked walk around the countryside? The SOA (s66) that criminalises exposure, was designed not to include naturists given that is worded as:
A person commits an offence if—
(a) he intentionally exposes his genitals, and
(b) he intends that someone will see them and be caused alarm or distress.
But there has been stories of how naturists have been arrested, charged and prosecuted for “exposure.” The reports I saw did see them acquitted, but it was all about interpretation of “intends … to [cause] alarm or distress.”
So it was interesting how the Police forces interpreted my request (and many did it differently from each other). I need to spend a bit of time analysing each of the four dozen responses, which I will do over the next few weeks but I am going to focus on a couple here.
One, Suffolk, used the “free text” field of the arrest record to search for “naked” or “expose” and came up with the records for the following crimes:
ENGAGE IN SEXUAL ACTIVITY IN PRESENCE OF A CHILD
OUTRAGING PUBLIC DECENCY
CAUSE HARASSMENT, ALARM DISTRESS
DRUNK & DISORDERLY IN A PUBLIC PLACE
Only the “cause harassment, alarm distress” (also known as the much-abused Public Order Act) and perhaps “Outraging Public Decency” are the offences often used against naturists. This represents 3 of the 33 arrests highlighted for that calendar year. As an aside, British Naturism, have been vocal about repealing the “Outraging Public Decency” laws as it is unreasonably vague.
Are naturists really being lumped in with the drunks and disorderlies of this world? Or those that engage in sexual activity in front of children? The request to the Police allowed them to interpret it as they saw fit, but specifically asked for all those arrested for public nudity. Some of that number would have included flashers; some of it was undoubtedly naturists.
Just in case you are wondering, there were 88 arrests in four years in Suffolk for nudity-related “crime”; the number arrested for dog-fouling and flytipping combined by the Police? Zero.
Another case is the Met Police; they police London - apart from the very centre (City of London Police), the parks (Royal Parks Police) or the transport infrastructure (British Transport Police). Again, in their response they indicated that the arrest code for dog fouling (111/21) was normally dealt with under a fixed ticket and flytipping (091/15) was also the preserve of the councils, but in four years they arrested 1,853 people for “exposure” and charged or cautioned around four in every nine.
They arrested just 35 people for fly-tipping, and charged just one in ten of those people. No-one was arrested for “dog fouling.”
So, what does this say? We know events like Spencer Tunick's art, and the World Naked Bike Ride normally pass without incident and the Police are relaxed about the nudity on those occasions. But we know that when they do react outside of these planned events, it is often confusing naturism with nefarious activities and equating nudity with sexual activity. This is ludicrous. As NAG (Naturist Action Group states): “… we have also had a number of approaches from people who have suffered from inappropriate police attention …”
But personally, I find it somewhat ludicrous, that we as a society, are quick to engage with the Police as if the behaviour is automatically criminal when we see a naked body in public, but poisoning public land as well as endangering wildlife and people is often best left to the councils as a civil matter.
I should close with the comment that the British countryside is a lovely place to visit. The Lake District and Peak District are stunning national parks and I've gone walking through the latter au naturel without seeing another soul.
Although as my figures show, I was inviting all manner of arrests for enjoying the scenery as Gaia intended.
I also will try and get some questions out to our Police and Crime Commissioner candidates, and UK-based naturists may be interested in the return of the ZSL Streak for Tigers.