Leather, rubber . . . but no women? You're nicked: David Prosser explains what happened after police raided a private party where no guests were breaking the law

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Indy Lifestyle Online
IT IS just before midnight on Saturday 8 May in the tiny village of Hoylandswaine, South Yorkshire. Match of the Day has just finished, and the lights are going out in the stone cottages.

But in one of the modern bungalows on the outskirts of the village a faint glimmer emerges from behind tightly drawn curtains. Inside, an unusual party is in full swing. Thirty-six gay men from all over the country have converged on Hoylandswaine. Chatting and drinking, some are wearing what their host describes as 'high-fashion leather and rubber wear' - for example, harnesses and all-in-one rubber suits. In the kitchen someone is showing off a new leather mask. It is the kind of crowd you might see at any one of a number of gay leather bars in London. But never in South Yorkshire.

Their host, David Worsfold, a 47- year-old training and development consultant, and his guests are in jovial mood, unaware that a tip-off to the Met in London has led to one of the biggest operations mounted by South Yorkshire police. Road blocks have been set up and nine police vans containing 26 officers are fast approaching.

But they are not planning to raid a private party. Their informant has told them that Mr Worsfold's bungalow would, this Saturday night, be full of big-time crooks. They believe that a 'thieves' bazaar' of stolen goods awaits them. Dead on 11.40pm they surround the house and charge in through the front and back doors. Chief Inspector Paul Verity, of Barnsley CID, takes up the story:

'Our officers went in expecting to find stolen videos and hi-fis. Unfortunately, they were confronted with quite another scenario: men in bondage or leather . . . . You could say they were surprised.'

Mr Worsfold describes the next few minutes as 'absolute confusion'. Junior officers just 'stood there, rather embarrassed'. Detective Inspector David Miller, leading the raid, tried to take charge, ordering the music to be turned off and the lights up. All the guests were shunted into one room.

'For 20 to 30 minutes they were clearly undecided what to do,' says Mr Worsfold. 'After lengthy discussions with his colleagues and a number of calls to the local police station, Miller ordered his men to 'arrest the fucking lot of them for conspiracy to commit gross indecency'.'

One officer unwisely commented to one of the guests: 'If there had been a couple of women here, we would have just walked out.'

Forbidden to change into more suitable clothing, all 36 men were bundled off to police cells before being released on bail the next morning. In a five-hour search of the house, a large amount of 'sexual apparatus and clothing' was seized, according to the police, but they admit that no sexual acts were taking place at the time of the raid.

The next day the police went back to hunt for more evidence. They tried to confiscate a pair of leather trousers, and were only prevented from doing so by one of organisers, who complained that he would have nothing left to wear.

A month later all the men were called back to Barnsley for police interviews. By this time they had hired Angus Hamilton, a London solicitor who represented one of the defendants in the 1990 Operation Spanner sado-masochism trial. On his advice, they answered 'No comment' to each allegation put to them.

Earlier this month police and the Crown Prosecution Service decided to drop the case because of 'insufficient evidence'. With legal aid claims, some estimates put the cost of the operation at pounds 30,000. The police refuse to set a price, but Chief Inspector Verity admits it has been a 'drain on resources'. 'In a village where the police can't even keep the ornamental flower tubs from being stolen,' complains Mr Worsfold

Now free to talk, he is angry: 'The senior officers didn't have the guts to turn round and walk out. They realised they had got it wrong and, in an attempt to justify it, they compounded it.'

Paul Condon, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, has gone on record as saying that 'private sexual behaviour is not a police priority'. But such enlightened views in the capital didn't prevent South Yorkshire police from pursuing the inquiry. Mr Worsfold describes the police interviews as 'crass'. A big issue was made of the fact that some of the men were carrying condoms. 'South Yorkshire police clearly haven't heard there is an Aids crisis,' he says, shaking his head.

But matters were to get worse. Several of the men were invited, off the record, to assist with an inquiry into child sex abuse in a neighbouring county. Many could not see the connection. A helpful detective sergeant explained: 'Well, we all know what you do is only one step removed from child abuse.' His Chief Superintendent later apologised to the men's solicitor for the remark, and said the officer in question had been taken off that inquiry.

Fleeing media attention, Mr Worsfold left his home for a month. But he is 'astonished' by the support he has received from people in the village. 'The following Saturday, I even had a message from the regulars in the pub: 'This is your usual time, David. Where are you?' ' The churchwarden, Mary, joked that the police were caught 'red-faced'. 'It wasn't what they thought it was at all. And anyway what can they do? He was in his own home an' all,' she said, unaware that Britain has some of the strictest laws on consenting gay sex.

David was, and is, a popular figure here and has never felt the need to hide his sexual orientation. 'The police seemed to think I should be embarrassed by my homosexuality. I don't understand that.' He has yet to count the full cost to his business, however. Already a couple of smaller clients have deserted him.

Who tipped off the police remains a mystery. 'They must have created an elaborate story. We'd kept the invitations close to our chest. So it must have been someone we once regarded as a friend.' A local person would have been unlikely to inform the Met in London.

The leather and rubber scene appeals to a small but significant part of Britain's lesbian and gay population. Much has been written about the need for trust between gays and the police in the hunt for London's serial killer. And, as Mr Worsfold says: 'Any police force attempting to investigate crimes where the victims are gay must recognise that you can't ask for cooperation on the one hand and be seen to persecute gay people on the other.

'People have had their livelihoods put at risk and may, for all I know, go down in the police computer as sado-masochists; people who are innocent of anything other than turning up to a party for a few drinks. I'm appalled.'

Angus Hamilton, his solicitor, goes further: 'People were at a party dressed oddly. The police themselves said nothing was going on. They arrested them for 'conspiracy'. That's thinking about having sex. The police constantly claim they are fettered by economic restraints from investigating burglaries and muggings where there are clear victims of crime. How can they justify this type of expenditure in such an entirely victimless situation?'

(Photograph omitted)

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