Friday, 21 January 2022

Will Britain make amends for the wrongs committed against an old soldier called Stephen Close who happened to be gay ?

The ban of LBGT people in the British Army was lifted in 2000, but before that you could be sacked and criminalised for your sexuality loosing not only their jobs, livelihoods and professional identities, but also their medals, pensions, long service awards. This was a rule that is thought to have affected about 5,000 people in the armed forces. A Government initiated review announced this week, over 20 years after the law was changed, is apparently going to establish the impact of that ban on the lives of men and women like Stephen Close. He was interviewed on the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme this week. He had ended up with a criminal record after his court martial in 1983, when he was 20 and serving in the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers in Germany assigned to guard Adolf Hitler's Deputy, Rudolf Hess, in Spandau Prison. 

He had earlier said : "I joined the Army in 1980 because I was confused about my sexuality. Coming from a deprived, working-class area, we had no education about things like that. I thought the army might make a man of me. I was sent to serve in Berlin, where one of my jobs was guarding Rudolf Hess. He was one of the architects of the Final Solution, which included the imprisonment and murder of thousands of gay men. Ironically, a month later I was myself in a British prison for being gay".

Stephen said on the Today Programme : "I was arrested and questioned. Apparently somebody had spotted me with another soldier and they'd reported me to the military police. I was questioned for 4 days. I kept denying it because the consequences of admitting to it would have been dire, but eventually after these interrogations we both broke down and confessed. I was court martialed and sentenced to 6 months in prison and discharged from the army with disgrace which was one of the most severe sentences imposed on a soldier".

The Daily Mirror Newspaper reported this as : 'Stephen was accused of gross indecency and faced a brutal interrogation and medical examination after he was found in the arms of a male soldier in 1983'. On another occasion Stephen had said : "I was charged with gross indecency and sent for court martial. There was a lot of abuse from other staff and I was beaten up. All my army friends turned their backs on me. It was horrible". "I served four months. It wasn’t long, but I was in pieces". 

Then : "After being released for prison I made my way back to Manchester - settled down back at home". He said : "At the time when I first came out of the Army I was very low. I was self harming. I contemplated taking my life a few times. There was no help there. I got no support whatsoever. I found it very difficult to cope and over years constantly knocked back, knocked back all the time".

Stephen continued : "I started looking for work. I thought I'd leave that experience behind me now, but it had only just started. Unknown to me, my military record was passed on to New Scotland Yard and I had a criminal record for 'gross indecency', which I couldn't understand because it had been decriminalised in 1967 and yet I had a criminal record for it, just because I was in the Army. I found it very difficult to find work. Every job I went for did a security check on me, a criminal record check and I was constantly refused work. I ended up cleaning, bar work - anything where I didn't have to give a criminal record check".

With a gross indecency sentence Stephen had been classified as a sex offender and said : "I couldn't work in the medical profession, hospitals. I couldn't work with children. I couldn't adopt, couldn't foster. I couldn't serve on a jury. Just everyday things I was denied". Stephen said : "Jobs I applied for and was successful in getting and due to technology over the years more and more companies were starting to use criminal record checks and I was called to the office one morning. He explained to me they'd done a criminal record check which I didn't declare, because a gross indecency conviction was never classed as a spent conviction. It was illegal not to declare it on every single application you applied for". 

"In 2013 the police came to the house demanding a DNA sample due to the 2010 Data Protection Bill where DNA samples were taken with people who had committed serious crimes prior to DNA sampling and I was threatened with arrest if I didn't comply. So I had to give a DNA sample". Stephen said at the time : "This whole thing has brought all this back up. I've moved on from my life. I'm a businessman now. I've been a relationship for more than 10 years now. It's like someone's put a bomb under me".

He said : "I appealed against it and sought help from Peter Tatchell who launched a campaign and eventually my DNA was destroyed the police apologised and they informed me I could apply to the Home Office to have the criminal record taken off me. So I did apply and eventually it was taken off".

Stephen said that as a result of the Government Review he was hoping to get his pension back and "some kind of compensation for decades of misery and hardship".

Stephen is not alone. There are many. David Bonney served four months in a military prison in Colchester in 1995, after being convicted of "homosexual conduct" while working for the RAF as a medic. He said : "I was in my early 20s and like anyone else in their early 20s, I was entitled to a sex life, to have relationships, just like anyone else in the military or in the civilian world. But that's not how they saw it, because I was gay. I was fined for the financial issues, but I was jailed for six months for being gay".

Although he was later freed on appeal, after serving four months, the conviction is still on his criminal record. He said it had a long-lasting impact on his life and : "From the moment I admitted to being gay, I was held in a cell separate to everyone. Handcuffs, going into a cell, treated as if I'd murdered or mugged someone". 

Caroline Paige, Co-Director of  the military charity, 'Fighting With Pride', was the first openly transgender servicewoman to serve in the military and since her retirement, she has campaigned for more to be done to lessen the impact of the pre-2000 ban. Speaking to BBC Breakfast, she said : "It's shameful that nothing has been done to help support them since the ban was lifted. It was 22 years ago, but you have to bear in mind that for some of these veterans the journey has been even longer than that because they were dismissed in the 60s, 70s or 80s and have been living their lives without any kind of support. The review is just the start of what needs to be done".

Apparently the Review will look at : 

* The potential impact the ban may have had on LGBT+ veterans, including the consequences for their future lives

* The accessibility of veterans' services for LGBT+ people

* How to ensure that LGBT+ veterans are recognised and fully accepted as members of the Armed Forces

And, apparently, the Government has said that it will set out how people affected by the ban will be able to share their experiences for the review once an independent chair has been announced.

Will wronged old soldiers like Stephen and David benefit from this Review ? I think not.

1 comment:

  1. Any fair compensation would be large. Multiplied by the number of people affected it would be enormous. I think not as well.