Gays angered after seven found guilty over sex video

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The Independent Online
Seven gay men have been convicted after they took part in a private sex video. The case has caused an outcry in gay communities who fear they are being victimised. Michael Streeter, Legal Affairs Correspondent, hears the arguments.

The case of the so-called Bolton Seven, convicted of various sexual offences last Monday, is rapidly becoming a cause celebre in the homosexual community. At least one of those convicted, 55-year-old Terry Connell, has been warned by the judge that he faces imprisonment.

Janet Cragg, a lawyer representing six of the defendants, said their six-day prosecution at Bolton Crown Court , which is thought to have cost around pounds 300,000, was a "complete waste of public money".

She added that it had been an ordeal for the men to have the videos shown in open court: "The defendants have been through hell."

Peter Tatchell, of OutRage!, said the seven were in effect being "martyred". He added: "It is not in the public interest or in the interests of justice that these men have been prosecuted let alone that some of them may be sent to prison."

The issue is already a major one in gay communities, and a man who was convicted after having sex with more than two people present is taking his case to the European Court of Human Rights. The Commission, the first hurdle in the legal process, is thought likely to give its view next month. The current case began after a former lodger of one of the seven, who are all originally from the Bolton area, sent police a video of the men involved in various sexual acts, including buggery and oral sex. A police raid later found another video.

Although some of the men admitted buggery, four of them denied gross indecency. Under the Sexual Offences Act 1967, in which homosexual acts between two consenting adults were legalised, gay sex is only legal if no more than two men are present. Although three of the defendants were also convicted of sex with someone under-age - one of them was 17 and a half at the time - activists are concerned that such prosecutions are an attack on consensual gay sex.

The men claimed the videos were simply for their personal use and that everyone had taken part with consent.

The Crown Prosecution yesterday defended its decision to bring the case, saying it had very carefully considered both the facts and the "public interest" in bringing the action.

It is understood that when the matter was first raised with the CPS there were suggestions that some of the men - whose age ranged between 55 and 17 - had been paid to take part, and that drugs had been used. There was no evidence of this raised at the trial. Sources also pointed out that if the judge, Michael Lever QC, had felt there was no case to answer, he could have stopped the trial and that the jury had convicted the men, who will be sentenced next month.

A Home Office spokesman said the law was constantly under review and they would study the details of the case.