Testimony: Antony Brown, jailed for being a sado-masochist following Operation Spanner, takes his case to Europe this month
Although I have always had sado-masochistic sexual fantasies, I am not a sadistic person by nature. I would never condone sadomasochistic activities involving serious harm or lack of consent and activities involving young people are abhorrent to me. SM is essentially about two people engaging in a role-play situation and depends on trust and co-operation. Far from being the "victim", the submissive partner is, ironically, very much in control of what happens to him or her. I didn't put my fantasies into practice until I met like-minded people in my mid-thirties. It began on a one-to-one basis and then the activities extended to a group of friends. Many of us were in long, stable partnerships and SM was a way of exploring our relationships; we never operated as a "ring", as the judge sinisterly put it, and the thought of being raided never entered my head.

But one evening in November 1987, I returned home from my job as a civil servant to find 12 policemen raiding my house on the grounds that the premises were being used to store obscene material intended for publication for gain. They had found a video we'd made for ourselves of our SM sessions which was to form the main body of evidence against us during the trial. I was flabbergasted. I felt my life had been burgled.

The strain of the two-year wait for the trial was terrible, particularly as I wasn't permitted to know the exact nature of the charges. I worried that when the case became public it would destroy both my career and my family and I would often wake from nightmares in which my windows were being smashed and my house daubed with obscenities. I needn't have worried, because my family, friends and neighbours rushed to my support and I even managed to negotiate early retirement from the Civil Service, which goes to show that the public can accept things that the law can't.

The real shock came when, in 1989, I was sentenced to two years and nine months on six counts of assault causing actual bodily harm. The judge was determined to place the severest interpretations on what I had done, including giving me 12 months for having watched a man being branded and a further year for aiding and abetting in a spanking. The fact that both men had requested and consented to such treatment was not permitted in my defence. In court the most important determining factor will be the prejudice and preconceptions of the judge, and it was quite clear to me that we were being punished for being homosexuals. Throughout the case the submissive participants in our activities were described as victims, but the real victims were the 16 of us who were being tried. My sentence was lenient: some of the other men received upwards of four years.

Initially I spent just three days in prison because the barrister immediately took our case to the Court of Appeal and then to the House of Lords. After 15 months the Lords ruled by a majority of three to two that we were guilty, and we were sent to Brixton prison on a shortened sentence of three months.

Things were not easy for me; my partner was seriously ill in hospital with Aids and I think I might have cracked had I been prevented from having contact with the outside world. The humanity of both the officers and the prisoners, who really couldn't understand why we were there, was also a reassuring and very pleasant surprise. The other men sentenced were not so lucky. Most had had their lives broken by the attempts made by the tabloids and the judicial system to humiliate them. I shared a cell with Roland Jaggard who had helped in making the offending video and for him the trauma was almost too much to bear; at times he was suicidal.

Having left prison, my acute anger at the injustice of the trial fuelled my determination to get our case heard by the European Human Rights Commission in an attempt to have the laws that led to our convictions changed. Our case will be a historic one in the continuing movement towards greater sexual freedom. The verdict will be vitally important to those who believe that what consenting adults do in private is nobody's business but their own. Through the Countdown on Spanner Campaign, the SM and human-rights organisations have raised awareness of the issues at stake. At the most extreme end of the scale it remains an offence in law for anyone to spank his or her partner if the mark that is left lasts more than a few hours, regardless of whether the spanking was consensual.

Thanks to our case, attitudes towards SM are changing rapidly. Not only has it become a more acceptable form of behaviour but one can also see its influence on mainstream culture, fashion and safer sex practices. As OutRage so aptly put it, it is high time the judges were evicted from the nation's bedrooms.

Interview by Katie Sampson

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