A homosexual man is bringing a ground-breaking legal case against David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, after he was placed on the sex offenders' register for having consensual sex with a 17-year-old. While illegal at the time, the age of consent for gay sex has subsequently been lowered to 16 - but Norman Williams remains on the register.
Mr Williams, 38, now plans to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights with the backing of Liberty, the human rights group, on the grounds that the Government has breached anti-discrimination laws and has denied him the right to privacy.
In 1998 he was convicted along with six other men, including the teenager who was just under 18, for taking part in private sex parties. The men were charged with buggery and gross indecency after police seized video tapes of the parties which had been filmed by the men.
At the time the age of consent for gay sex was 18, although this has since been lowered to 16, the same as that for heterosexual sex. The law also prohibited sex acts taking place in private between more than two men.
The case of the so-called Bolton Seven became the focus of an international campaign for a change in the law. The men received the support of human rights groups around the world, including Amnesty International, as well as the then bishops of Edinburgh and Worcester and Chris Smith, the former culture secretary.
As a result of the publicity surrounding the case, none of the seven received jail sentences. The Government also offered an out-of-court settlement of £15,000 each to several of the convicted men. Mr Williams was not included in this offer, although his two-year suspended sentence was revoked by the Court of Appeal.
He said that neighbours have wrongly branded him a paedophile after police raided his house. He has been the subject of physical attacks and verbal abuse since his conviction. Over the past five years, he has been forced to move house six times, spent two weeks in a prison hospital after he was beaten up by fellow inmates, told he would be impaled on a fork-lift truck, and has changed his phone number countless times. Unless his court case is successful, he faces another five years on the sex offenders' register.
"By being put on the register I have been labelled a paedophile," said Mr Williams, a fork-lift truck driver. "My family does not want to know me. I used to go out with my sisters and their kids but now they won't let me. I shouldn't have been convicted in the first place - it was clearly discriminatory."
Liberty said that it was seeking a judicial review of Mr Williams's case and would take the case to Europe if necessary. "We are arguing that he should never have been put on the register, and the fact that he is still on it is a breach of his human rights," said a spokesman.Reuse content