Lords reject appeals by sado-masochists

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TThe law lords' dismissal of appeals by five homosexual sado- mashochists who inflicted injuries on one another's genitals during ritual sex was attacked yesterday as a significant erosion of the rights of the individual.

The ruling, by three to two, held that it was not a defence for the men to say they had consented to actions which led to convictions for wounding and assault.

Last night two of the men, who had been on bail, began jail sentences which the appeal court had cut. Another had served a nine- month sentence and two others had jail sentences suspended.

The five were among 16 men convicted in 1990 of activities which involved cutting each other's genitals with surgical scapels, sandpapering scrotums and pushing fishing hooks into penises.

Following yesterday's ruling three of the five said they will take the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Critics said the judgment denied an individual's right to privacy. Andrew Puddephatt, general secretary of the pressure group Liberty, called on the Government to enshrine in law a right of privacy. 'We are very disappointed at the way the judgment legitimises the intrusion of the state unnecessarily into people's private lives.'

Ivan Geffen, a lawyer for one of the five, said that the ruling threw the law into chaos. 'In effect, a person involved in an act which is regarded as lawful may find themselves in difficulties when it suddenly becomes unlawful. That might be a heterosexual couple who give one another love bites.'

Countdown to Spanner, a pressure group which took its name from the police operation that uncovered the nation-wide sex ring, said the decision was short-sighted and discriminatory.

Last night Anthony Brown, 56, a retired local government officer from Yardley, Birmingham, began a three-month sentence, and Roland Jaggard, 45, a former aerospace engineer, of Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, six months. The others whose appeals were dismissed were Saxon Lucas, 60, a lay preacher from Evesham, Hereford and Worcester; Christopher Carter, 40, a businessman from Frankwell, Shropshire; and Colin Laskey, 50, a former teacher, of Pontypridd, Mid Glamorgan.

In his ruling, Lord Templeman said: 'Society is entitled and bound to protect itself against a cult of violence. Pleasure derived from the infliction of pain is an evil thing. Cruelty is uncivilised.'

Lord Mustill, who allowed the appeal, said the state should not interfere with the rights of an individual any more than was necessary to ensure a proper balance between the special interests of the individual and the general interests of the public.

Law Report, page 27