Policemen support gay campaign for equality: Officers call for change in sex law

TWO SENIOR police officers have thrown their weight behind moves to lower the homosexual age of consent to 16, despite attempts by official spokesmen to claim officers have no view on the subject.

The issue will be debated by the Commons on Monday. Yesterday, Chief Superintendent Bill Wilson, of Brixton police, south London, speaking from his home, said lowering the age of consent to 16 was common sense.

'It's not a big issue to me, I just think in this age of equality the law should be equal for everyone. I wouldn't expect a person who recognised he was gay aged 14 to wait until 21 to have his first sexual experience. It would be nave for anyone to think they would.'

His view is backed by Chief Superintendent Tony Buchanan, of Hampstead police, north London, which covers the Heath, a renowned homosexual meeting place. In the past he has promised to treat in confidence accounts of homophobic attacks given to him by gay men. 'My opinion is that the age of consent should be the same. As it is set at 16 for heterosexuals, I think it should follow that it should also be 16 for homosexuals.'

Both men have spoken out despite the official Metropolitan Police line, which is that it has no policy on the issue. Its position is echoed by the Association of Chief Police Officers, which said yesterday: 'The general consensus is that we don't have a view.'

John Stalker, former deputy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, said that he had no doubt chief constables across Britain had views on the question, which ranged from supporting the proposed change to 16 to that expressed by Lord Ferrers, who has said he would like it raised to 75. But Mr Stalker added: 'Homosexuality is low on our list of police priorities. It's not much of a problem unless there is a public nuisance aspect in relation to 'cottaging', or homosexual murders.'

Galop, which provides advice for lesbian and gay police officers, believes that the present age of consent makes young gay men distrustful of a law that criminalises them, and makes them less co-operative with police.

A spokesman said: 'We frequently get calls from men over 21 who have found themselves attacked, robbed or held at gunpoint by younger men, who say if they report the crime they will use their sexuality against them because they are 19 or 20 years old.'

One of the most recent examples of blackmail, which often involves extortion, came last September when the Pink Paper reported the conviction of Paul Mellon, 35, for extorting pounds 30,000 from a gay man. Mellon was sentenced to four years after admitting extorting the money from his victim, who was not named, over seven months in 1991. He had threatened to expose his victim's sexuality to his family and neighbours, and to set him up on false charges of having under-age sex. After that trial, at Glasgow High Court, PC Tony Murphy, of the Lesbian and Gay Police Association, commented: 'I believe a lot of blackmail cases haven't been reported to the police and extortioners are committing these crimes because they are able to get away with it.'

The Glasgow City Liaison Group, which provides help and advice for lesbian and gay men, says it has had more than 500 cases of blackmail and extortion from gays in its three years of operation - some from as far as Exeter and Devon - and have involved tens of thousands of pounds.

Members of the moderate Conservative Bow Group yesterday added to growing calls on MPs to vote for consent at 16, writes Patricia Wynn Davies. They declared the arguments for equalising the age 'overwhelming', and claimed objections were based solely on 'unsubstantiated allegations, long-standing prejudice and emotive propaganda'.

Leading article, page 10

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