Police shred files in attempt to heal rift with gay groups

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The Independent Online
HUNDREDS of questionnaires and documents were publicly shredded at Brighton police station yesterday as officers tried to regain the confidence of the town's homosexual community.

This unusual ceremony was the latest chapter in a dispute involving Brighton police which has left many homosexuals feeling bitter and distrustful.

The destroyed material contained more than 600 questionnaires which were completed by homosexuals who helped police to investigate the murder of Peter Halls, who was stabbed to death in 1990.

After the questionnaire, homosexual activist groups expressed concern that the police might pass on details from the list of homosexuals, and that the names and addresses could be put on computer as a permanent record.

Their fears were confirmed when the police inadvertently provided information about a homosexual to a man charged with assaulting him, but later acquitted.

The accused man was given the information while on remand in Lewes prison. He is believed to have obtained it from another prisoner, Ian McLoughlin, who was also on remand, accused of murdering Mr Halls. The information was later made public during the assault trial.

McLoughlin, 33, who received a life sentence in July for murdering Mr Halls, 55, was given the information after his defence lawyer requested copies of all the prosecution's evidence, which it must provide. There is concern that other statements could also have been passed to inmates and could still be in circulation.

Chief Superintendent John Albon, of Brighton police, said: 'We have no idea where the copies of the evidence are now. We had to pass them to the solicitors and they can do what they want with them. This system is serious flawed - you have a situation where statements are circulated in prison as a form of titillating pornography.'

About 150 people who gave information used in the court case have had their statements recorded on a computer disk which will be kept in a safe for six years.

Arthur Law, a spokesman for Brighton Outrights, a gay rights' group, said: 'Gay people in Brighton feel betrayed by the police and it begs the question of whether they will co-operate in future inquries.'