Exclusive: Plan ‘failing’ to clear criminal records of gay men

Only 40 out of 50,000 cases were formally dealt with

Chief Reporter

Campaigners are calling for a general pardon for gay men with historical convictions for consensual sex after a Home Office scheme to delete criminal records resulted in just 40 out of a potential 50,000 cases being formally set aside.

Figures obtained by The Independent under the Freedom of Information Act show that officials approved less than 30 per cent of applications under a law brought in two years ago which Coalition ministers said would correct “one of the most unfair and unjust historical inequalities” of the modern era.

The Protection of Freedoms Act included a provision allowing gay men to apply to have convictions for offences such as gross indecency – often dating back 50 or 60 years – to be “disregarded” or deleted from criminal records where they involved private acts between consenting adults which have since been decriminalised.

The Government said the legislation was aimed at correcting an anomaly which had “for decades seen gay men unfairly stigmatised” as well as allowing homosexuals to volunteer or apply for work from which they had been effectively barred because of criminal-record checks that would disclose convictions.

Lynne Featherstone, the Liberal Democrat MP who steered the legislation through Parliament while she was the equalities minister, has previously said that up to 50,000 convictions for offences under various pieces of legislation – including the notorious gross indecency law used to convict Oscar Wilde – could be eligible for deletion. But figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that a tiny fraction of an estimated 50,000 historic convictions have now been quashed after just 146 applications for the deletion of offences were received by the Home Office, of which 40 were granted.

The remainder either fell outside the remit of the legislation or were related to acts which remain criminalised, such as so-called cottaging offences in public toilets.

Campaigners said the low rate of applications was the result of a lack of publicity about the provisions and a “burdensome” application process which deters many men who are reluctant to revisit convictions that would have been, in many cases, traumatic and a source of shame or embarrassment for decades.

Peter Tatchell, a leading gay-rights activist, called for the Government to instead extend the royal pardon granted last year to the mathematician and code-breaker Alan Turing, after he was convicted of gross indecency and underwent chemical castration, to all gay men given a criminal record for acts long since legalised. He said: “It would be much easier for the Government to simply extend the pardon to Turing to all those convicted of consenting same-sex sexual relations.”

James Taylor, head of policy at Stonewall, said: “This law can have a transformative effect, freeing people from worries when they apply for jobs or voluntary positions. However, it’s clear from these figures that there’s still more to do to promote this change.”

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “It is unacceptable that homosexual men have been living for decades with criminal records for consensual sex. We would encourage anyone affected to apply to have these records deleted or disregarded.”

Case Study: Removing a conviction

John Melville had forgotten about his conviction for gross indecency until he received a phone call from police, telling him he had to provide a DNA sample because he was a convicted sex offender.

Fined for gross indecency in 1996 after a police sting while having sex with a man in woodland, Melville was outraged to find himself placed in the same category as paedophiles and rapists.

In 2012, the airline worker began the process of having his offence deleted from his records under the Protection of Freedoms Act.

Melville, 51, said: “If I had been having sex with a woman in woodland two miles from the nearest house, the police would have laughed it off. No one would have been interested. But because we were men, both aged over 21 and consenting, it was a crime and police were waiting for us.”

The Home Office eventually granted his application for the removal of his conviction. But the experience has left a bitter taste.

Melville said: “I found myself thinking, ‘Am I still living in the UK?’ I am an openly gay man. But what if you are a married man who had a gay relationship and suddenly this episode from your past turns up. It is good you can have these convictions removed, but more needs to be done to tell people it’s possible.”

Travel
travel
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
Sport
sportBesiktas 0 Arsenal 0: Champions League qualifying first-leg match ends in stalemate in Istanbul
News
Jamie and Emily Pharro discovering their friend's prank
video
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
Manchester United are believed to have made a £15m bid for Marcos Rojo
sportWinger Nani returns to Lisbon for a season-long loan as part of deal
News
news
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
O'Toole as Cornelius Gallus in ‘Katherine of Alexandria’
filmSadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Life and Style
fashion
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior DBA (SQL Server, T-SQL, SSIS, SSAS) London - Finance

£30000 - £33000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior DBA (SQ...

Business Anaylst

£60000 - £75000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: Business Anal...

Senior Project Manager

£60000 - £90000 per annum + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Global leading Energy Tra...

Associate CXL Consultant

£40000 - £60000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: CXL, Triple Po...

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment