Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Deficiency of dress or shelter

Despite there being no actual legal prohibition on public nudity in England or Scotland, the Naked Rambler has been imprisoned for most of the last six years.
One day I was walking and something happened." He had an epiphany: "I realised I was good. Being British, buried in our upbringing is that we're not good or have to watch ourselves – maybe it comes from religion, or school. I realised that at a fundamental level I'm good, we're all good, and you can trust that one part of yourself." This self-realisation led to Gough often choosing to be naked in public: if he was good, then his body was good. "The human body isn't offensive," he says. "If that's what we're saying, as human beings, then it's not rational." His former partner was "more conservative" and a visit from her parents proved calamitous. "One morning I came to breakfast naked and that was it, all over," Gough says flatly. "The thing was, her parents weren't even that bothered." The couple returned to Eastleigh together, but Gough went to live with his mother. He arrived back in England, he says, with an intense appreciation of what nakedness could offer, and questioning "things we're taught to believe are right". He visited a police station in Eastleigh and asked if it was illegal to walk naked in the streets. "They couldn't come up with an answer," he says.
In Scotland, breach of the peace is partly defined as "conduct which does, or could, cause the lieges [public] to be placed in a state of fear, alarm or annoyance". The prosecution has very rarely managed to rustle up witnesses to claim Gough's nakedness has had any of these effects on them. What is keeping him in prison is simply the theoretical idea that it could. "I do not believe that an ordinary, reasonable person would feel any of those things if they saw me [naked] in the street," Gough says. He believes that to achieve his stated aim – to leave HMP Perth and return to Eastleigh naked – "the law doesn't have to change, just the interpretation". Twice Scottish sheriffs found in Gough's favour that no crime had been committed, both in him being naked in public and being naked in court. "Both times the sheriffs were elderly females," notes Good, who represented Gough for more than three years (they parted company in 2010 so Gough could represent himself, making it harder for him to be excluded from the courtroom for being naked). "Stephen then chose to leave court naked and was arrested for being naked in public."
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