UK Politics

75 Year Old Tory Councillor Criminalised For Saying Something A Bit Bigoted

Is it just me, or is this a just little bit off?

A Tory councillor who suggested gay people were paedophiles was given a conditional discharge today.

Peter Willows, who has been a councillor in the UK’s self-styled gay capital Brighton and Hove for 12 years, made the comment at a mayor-making reception in May.

The 75-year-old was asked by the editor of a gay magazine whether he thought a gay councillor was a paedophile, Brighton Magistrates’ Court was told.

“James Ledward asked Willows, ‘Do you think Paul’s a paedophile?”‘ prosecutor David Packer said.

“Willows replied to that with, ‘I know you are not Paul, it’s the other gays’.” The barrister said the words “equated gay people with paedophiles”.

Willows, who the court heard has “fixed, traditional views on marriage, church and families”, was found guilty of using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour or disorderly behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress after a day-long trial.

He had denied the charge, which was brought under Section 5 of the Public Order Act. Chairwoman of the Bench Pauline Quinton said: “It’s quite clear that you did use the word gays not guys, despite your denial.

“Because you knew that both men were gay…your remarks would inevitably be insulting.”

But she added that the comments were not borne from hostility towards people who were gay. Willows was given a conditional discharge and told to pay £250 costs.

Well, there you go. A 75 year old “war veteran and former welder” said something which implied that he probably thought that gay men were paedophiles. The equation of homosexuality and paedophilia is both a common belief among the elderly, so I’m not enormously surprised by the exchange that took place. It is the sort of thing which you might have heard your own grandparents say.

It is discreditable to express such views, certainly. We rightly deplore slurs against people who are homosexual.

But, as Peter Tatchell has argued, it is quite wrong for people to be investigated by the police, prosecuted, and convicted, for expressing views which are merely insulting. This was not, after all, a queer-bashing. Although views expressed would undoubtedly be regarded as objectionable by non-bigots, they were not deployed as a personal insult or as a tirade of abuse against the journalists. Rather, the offence consisted of a series of casual remarks, made in response to a question asked by a journalist from a gay magazine.

Reaction to the conviction has been mixed. Pink News reports:

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Brighton and Hove Council, Paul Elgood, one of the prosecuting witnesses in the trial, told Brighton newspaper The Argus, “It mattered that a guilty verdict was found. To me the punishment was irrelevant.”

He was backed by Labour councillor Warren Morgan, he said the remarks set a “bad example.”

Writing on the messageboards, he said: “Those of us in public office are supposed to set an example by not promoting homophobia and an atmosphere where violence against LGBT people might be encouraged.

“As elected representatives we have a duty to promote equality and a safe society where everyone is free, not made to feel like criminals because of their sexuality.”

However, the condemnation of Willows has not been felt throughout the gay community.

Jay Nemes and Johnny Core are two Brighton based gay men, they gave the disgraced councillor £40 towards his court costs after the verdict.

Mr Nemes told The Argus: “Freedom of speech in England ended on December 12, 2006.

“We have reached a stage where someone who makes an unfortunate comment and then apologises for it gets the full weight of the law brought down upon them.”