Avon & Somerset Police apologises for past LGBT+ witch-hunts

Sarah Crew is the seventh UK police chief to say sorry

London – 2 November 2023


The Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset, Sarah Crew, has offered an “apology” to the LGBT+ community. Writing to Peter Tatchell, she said: “I am sorry for the over-policing and under-protection that LGBT+ people have suffered in Avon and Somerset in the past.”

She is the seventh UK police chief to apologise to the LGBT+ community, following similar apologies by the heads of the Metropolitan, City of London, Sussex, South Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire forces.

The campaign, #ApologiseNow, was launched by the Peter Tatchell Foundation in the summer and was backed by the comedian and TV presenter Paul O’Grady before his tragic sudden death.

Responding to an appeal for an apology by the Peter Tatchell Foundation, Sarah Crew wrote:

“The police enforce the law, but some of the laws we enforced in the past were discriminatory and our role in this has undoubtedly led to significant hurt, pain, and anger, which has damaged our relationship with LGBT+ people and reduced their trust and confidence in us. I hope that by acknowledging the hurt we have caused in the past, we can start to rebuild our relationship with LGBT+ communities in Avon and Somerset. We are not the same police service that we were in the 70s, 80s, or even 90s.”

As well as making an apology, the Chief Constable went on to outline proactive policy proposals to win the trust and confidence of the LGBT+ community and serve them better:

“We are developing our plan in partnership with Avon and Somerset Police’s LGBT+ staff association, which will include going out to consult and seek feedback from our local LGBT+ stakeholders. Actions we are taking and considering include:

  • Establishing better relations and mechanisms to build links with LGBT+ communities and open forums for issues to be raised and addressed.
  • The development of a network of diversity advisors, including people with lived experience of LGBT+ issues, to support staff and officers and advise on investigations when a lens of lived experience would be beneficial.
  • The development of increased quality and visibility of data to help us understand levels of hate crime against staff and officers where LGBT+ is an aggravating factor, our prosecution rates for LGBT+ hate crime, reporting rates, victim satisfaction rates, and any disproportionality in our internal processes and policies.
  • Reviewing hate crime training for new officers to ensure that all aggravating factors are included.
  • Ensuring the learning from the Stephen Port case has been absorbed and embedded in our CID and investigations teams,” said Sarah Crew.

Peter Tatchell today responded with praise for the Chief Constable’s statement:

“My immense gratitude to Sarah Crew for her forthright apology to the LGBT+ community on behalf of Avon and Somerset police. She has not only said sorry but backed it up with positive, proactive proposals to engage with the LGBT+ community and better serve and protect them. We are very grateful. This will go a long way towards securing a more constructive, collaborative relationship between the police and LGBT+ people – further building trust and cooperation. It is a commendable continuation of the great work the police have been doing in recent years.

“Some people in power find it hard to say sorry for past wrongs. Sarah Crew didn’t hesitate or evade the need for a clear apology. That marks her out as a commendable police chief. We thank her and her officers. This apology does the Avon and Somerset police proud and will win much appreciation and praise from the LGBT+ community.

“Having drawn a line under past police homophobia, I hope this will boost LGBT+ confidence in the police and encourage more LGBTs to report hate crime, domestic violence and sexual assault,” said Peter Tatchell, Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation.

The Peter Tatchell Foundation is asking every Chief Constable in the UK to say sorry for past homophobic persecution.

The #ApologiseNow petition is now live at ApologiseNow.com

Peter Tatchell added:

“We were not asking the police to apologise for enforcing the law, but to apologise for the often illegal and abusive way they enforced it.

“Officers raided gay bars, clubs and even private birthday parties, insulting LGBTs as ‘poofs’ and ‘queers’. They gave the names and addresses of arrested gay men to local papers, which led to some being evicted, sacked and violently beaten. Police harassed LGBTs leaving gay venues and arrested same-sex couples for kissing, cuddling and holding hands, right up until the 1990s.

“The police did not make the law but they chose to enforce it in ways that today would be deemed unlawful and unacceptable. They went out of their way to target gay and bisexual men to boost their arrest figures and ‘crime fighting’ reputation. Young handsome male officers were sent into public toilets and parks, where they lured gay men into committing offences and then arrested them. These so-called ‘pretty police’ acted as agents provocateurs.

“The yearly average of homosexual offences recorded by the police in England and Wales was nearly three times greater after the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in 1967, than it was in the previous eight decades of total criminalisation – clear evidence of a police witch-hunt.

“At the height of this post-1967 persecution, in 1989 there were 1,718 convictions and cautions for so-called ‘gross indecency’ between men in England and Wales – almost as many as in 1954-55 when male homosexuality was totally illegal, and the country was gripped by a McCarthyite-style anti-gay witch hunt.

“If the police say they have changed, then all forces need to show it by acknowledging past wrongs. They need to follow the laudable lead of the Avon and Somerset, Cambridgeshire, South Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Sussex Chief Constables and the Metropolitan and City of London Police Commissioners. All UK police chiefs should apologise for the many decades of past police harassment. Apologise now!

“Other police services across the UK are currently engaging with the #ApologiseNow campaign, but as discussions are on-going we will not be naming them,” said Mr Tatchell.