Gays defiant as killer fails to disrupt bar scene: Mistrust of police in a closed community may hinder search for murderer of five men despite attempts to forge closer links

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The Independent Online
DAVID WILMOT, 27, heard the police warning about a homophobic serial killer on the radio yesterday. A few hours later he went home with John MacDonald, a Canadian undertaker he met in a gay bar.

'This won't stop me going home with people I've just met,' said Mr Wilmot, enjoying a lunchtime drink in Brief Encounter, one of central London's popular gay bars. 'You know how it is when you have a few drinks and you fancy someone.'

Mr MacDonald, 32, in London for a two-week holiday, was equally unperturbed. He reckoned Mr Wilmot was a safe bet. 'I can look after myself. I never go home with anyone bigger than me. Anyway the odds against bumping into a serial killer must be pretty high.'

More than 40 men were drinking in Brief Encounter, one of a dozen gay bars in the area. From the handsome, sharp-suited executive in his early twenties to the slightly sozzled middle-aged Italian nearby, all defied the enduring Village People stereotype. According to staff, 70 per cent of customers are regulars who meet to chat. But this lunchtime, half appeared to be alone and to know no one.

Mr Wilmot's comments annoyed customers who claimed they reinforced out-dated and inaccurate prejudice. The community's promiscuity was exaggerated. 'It's not that easy to get laid,' one man said. Most were angry at suggestions that gay men should change their sexual behaviour until the killer is caught.

'There is obviously more chance of two men going home together than a man and a woman because of the drive men have for sex,' said Nigel, a 25-year-old student. 'But heterosexuals do go home together, too. I don't see why the police and press are focusing on our sexual behaviour. The chance of meeting the killer in a city with perhaps 500,000 gay men are rather remote.'

Feelings for the police were far from warm. Some said violence against gay men was not taken seriously and police officers were invariably homophobic. One regular said: 'The day after Peter Walker, the theatre director, was murdered, the police came here. Despite four more murders, they haven't been near since.'

If officers do visit they might find information hard to come by. Distrust is deep-rooted and widespread. Customers pointed to James Duffy, 23, who had a blood clot removed from his brain after being beaten unconscious by five 'queer-bashers' near a gay pub in south London. The attack left Mr Duffy, an Encounter regular, with epilepsy. He believes police have done too little to trace his attackers and says social prejudice and distrust of officers have stopped vital witnesses coming forward.

Last night police interviewed customers at the crowded Crews Bar near Leicester Square in central London while two muscle-bound men danced for customers. Patrick Sullivan, the general manager, said officers had guaranteed discretion and had seemed pleased with the response.

'The bar is quieter than usual tonight. I just hope we don't get down to the levels we had during the Dennis Nilsen period,' Mr Sullivan said. 'People are worried but aware and we are doing all we can to help. Customers will be looking more to people they know and are familiar with.'

At nearby Comptons, Mark Mangla, 29, criticised a 'hysterical' media but praised the police's prompt action. 'The community wasn't even aware there was a killer on the go.'

(Photograph omitted)