Sunday, 19 October 2008

A Fumble on the Beach and Turning a Blind Eye

Public sex has featured in the media this week and today Minette Marrin pulls two stories together in her Sunday Times comment piece. Marrin is a pretty independent voice but her column is typically designed to stir up strong views. That said, she's a pretty good windsock of traditional and indeed mainstream opinion. First she turns to the story of Michelle Palmer and Vince Acors who were sentenced this week to three months in a Dubai prison after being found having sex on a beach. That they weren't married added to their woes. Marrin describes them as a 'couple of well-to-do British expatriates in Dubai shamelessly and drunkenly doing it on the beach'. The pair had denied they were engaged in sex and for me the interesting aspect of the story was that a Police officer had to go down to the beach with a torch to find them (so it was presumably pitch black) following someone telling him that there was a couple on the beach having sex. In other reports they had been warned first. ITN reported the story as below:

It seems to me that they should have respected the cultural values of the country and having been warned should have stopped and moved on to an indoors location. However, the mere act of having sex in the pitch black in a place that people would need a torch light see/be fully aware of is surely not a wrong per se?

The other story in the news concerns Deputy Chief Constable Michael Cunningham, of Lancashire Police, who said that the police should not become a "moral arbiter" by arresting those who engage in public sex. The comments follow the leaking of draft new guidance on the policing of public sex. I've not seen the report as it's not yet in the public domain (or indeed finished). I didn't advise ACPO in the production of this advice but it does strike me as very sensible and mirrors the evidence I recently gave to the Communities and Local Government Select Committee. Marrin brands this leaked document as 'the kind of attitude that gives freedom a dirty name' but the reality is that people do not always know that these sexual acts are taking place and are often unaffected by them beyond a sense of moral outrage. The law allows those acts to be left alone and they should be. The difficulty arises with sex in a public toilet which the reports suggests ACPO hasn't realised (although I suspect the full document does) in that the police can not turn a blind eye to S71 offences. Those acts that breach S71 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (sex in a public lavatory) must be acted upon as that is a criminal act regardless of whether anyone can see the act or not. The public have a right to demand enforcement of that section (however stupid it may be) where as the blanket policing of public sex locations in the hope of "catching someone" is largely without basis in law and seems a poor use of what we are routinely told is a limited resource.

It should be added that documents do not just leak themselves. It is seems quite possible that someone at ACPO or who had sight of the document didn't like the contents and leaked it to the media to ensure that the final proposals were watered down following a media and public outcry. I hope that doesn't happen and that we finally get some progressive policing of this issue. Calm down people, its just sex.

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