Naked rambler 'deliberately provocative’

Posted: 4th November 2013

RCJDespite his pleas that there is nothing insulting or intimidating about the human body in its natural state, the so-called ‘naked rambler’, Stephen Gough, has failed in a novel appeal against a disorderly behaviour conviction after the High Court condemned his behaviour as ‘deliberately provocative’.

Mr Gough was walking the length of Britain and had made it to Halifax when police pulled him over in October 2012. He later emerged in all his glory from the town's police station - dressed only in his walking boots, socks, a rucksack and a compass round his neck.

He proceeded through Halifax town centre, much to the amazement of the townsfolk. He was filmed by a camera crew for about 15 minutes before police swooped again and he was arrested. Mr Gough was subsequently found guilty of an offence under the Public Order Act 1986 and fined by a district judge.

Challenging his conviction at the High Court, Mr Gough insisted that his behaviour had been entirely 'passive' and that there was nothing wrong with him appearing in public 'in his natural human state.'  He had done nothing to induce fear, intimidation or distress in members of the public.

However, in dismissing his appeal, the Court found that ‘by walking through the town centre entirely naked, he was violating public order’. Although some might take a more 'benign view', there was nothing passive about his conduct in that he knew full well, not least from his own experience, that many members of the public would both be alarmed and distressed by sight of his naked body. He was being ‘deliberately provocative in order to support his own stance’.

The Court accepted that Mr Gough’s nudity was a ‘form of expression’ protected by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. However, it went on to rule that there was ‘a pressing social need for the restriction of his right to be naked in the context of this case'.

The existence of nudist colonies and organised naked bike rides through central London was irrelevant, as was the fact that the police had often refrained from arresting or prosecuting Mr Gough, merely taking steps to remove him from heavily populated areas. The Court concluded, "To say that the adverse reaction to Mr Gough's nudity is not his problem or the result of his behaviour is to ignore reality."